Many things have gone wrong for Missouri (9-6, 1-2 SEC) this season.
Jeremiah Tilmon suffered a stress fracture in his left foot and is still sidelined. The Tigers suffered one of the ugliest losses in team history at home against Charleston Southern. It hasn’t been a pretty season for Missouri by any means.
But against Florida (10-5, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday night, none of that mattered. Everything went right for the Tigers, and they looked like a team that belongs in the upper-half of Southeastern Conference squads.
Missouri shot 61.5% from the field and 63.2% from behind the arc for by far its best offensive performance of the year, and even though the Tigers battled foul issues all night, they did more than enough offensively to knock off the Gators in the 91-75 win.
Dru Smith led the way with 22 points on just 12 shots. Mark Smith drilled three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. Javon Pickett and Mitchell Smith were the other Tigers to reach double-digits in points with 14 and 10, respectively.
Florida big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. tied Dru Smith with 22 points of his own, but he was held to just four rebounds and only two other Gators reached double figures.
“Tremendous effort. I think it was our best effort on the season,” head coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Everything clicked at the same time for Missouri throughout the first half.
The Tigers shot 60% (18-for-30) from the field and 63% (12-for-19) from deep. Florida’s star big man Blackshear got his (11 points, four rebounds), but few other Gators got theirs. Only three of Blackshear’s teammates scored more than two points, and only Noah Locke made more than one shot from the field.
Missouri looked like a completely different team on the offensive side of the ball. Instead of slowing down the pace and running more half court sets, the Tigers tried to get out in transition on every rebound or turnover. This uptick in tempo proved to be fruitful, and Missouri scored 51 points in the half, by far its best single-half output of the season.
The play of Xavier Pinson was especially impressive in the new-look offense, and made one of the best plays at Mizzou Arena in recent memory.
After Reed Nikko tipped the ball away from Blackshear in the post, Pinson picked up the ball and tried to hit Javon Pickett with the outlet pass. The ball was tipped, but Pinson got it back and pushed it down the court himself. He faked a pass to Pickett on the wing, and, with 6-foot-10 Omar Payne rising up to contest, the 6-foot-2 threw down a monster jam that got the crowd as loud as its been all season.
“I was just doing my job, pushing the ball, and I seen an opportunity to go get it,” Pinson said. “There was a defender right there, I don’t really know how to explain it. It just happened, to be honest.”
“I’m gonna just dunk everything now,” Pinson added when reminded about his breakaway layup that was blocked by Tennessee on Tuesday.
But with everything seemingly going right for Missouri, fouls continued to be an issue on the defensive end.
The Tigers were called for 12 fouls in the first half, and four different players had at least two personal fouls. With Florida struggling to knock down shots, the 20 free throw attempts gifted by Missouri helped to keep the Gators within 15 points heading into the half.
The foul issues didn’t magically disappear at the break, either, as the Tigers were called for their seventh foul at the 13:20 mark in the second half to put Florida in the bonus for the rest of the game. The Gators got into the double-bonus with 9:06 remaining.
“We definitely just got to keep our composure,” Mark Smith said. “Even though stuff didn’t go our way with the fouls, we can’t control that. You know, we’ve just got to keep playing hard and just flush it and worry about the next play.
With the pre-game announcement that Mario McKinney Jr. is suspended from the team indefinitely and with Tilmon still sidelined, having multiple bodies in foul trouble could have spelled doom for Missouri. Instead, the Tigers’ torrid shooting helped them thrive.
Florida managed to cut the lead to as low as 11 points, but Missouri managed to answer essentially every time.
With the score at 65-54 after a Tre Mann jumper, Dru Smith and Javon Pickett scored five straight to extend the lead. Blackshear got the lead back down to 14 on a layup, but the Tigers answered with a 10-0 run to pretty much ice the game. Even Torrence Watson — whose offensive struggles this season have been well-documented — got in on the action, and his and-one to cap off the run gave Missouri a 24-point lead at the 5:39 mark, its largest of the game.
The Gators scored just 17 points the rest of the way, and the Tigers closed out the two-game home stand with their most impressive win of the season.
“Just all around, I thought that everybody just had a really good game,” Dru Smith said. “Things were clicking, offense was clicking and we were also clicking defensively, so I thought it was just a good game for everyone.”