Missouri completed a 20 point comeback over Georgia Tuesday night, a win the team desperately needed for its confidence. That much was clear after the game, as well as during the media availability session Friday morning.
It was just win number two in conference play, but coming on the heels of the crushing loss to Texas A&M and a blowout loss last Saturday to West Virginia, it felt huge. However, it only means something if it can be built upon.
When the Tigers (10-10, 2-6) tip-off against South Carolina (12-8, 4-3) Saturday in the other Columbia, they might have some help back in the lineup. Cuonzo Martin called center Jeremiah Tilmon a “game-time decision.” The junior from East St. Louis has not been on the court since the loss to Kentucky to open conference play back on January 4th, missing time with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Before his injury, Tilmon was averaging 9.0 points per game this season.
Tilmon has been limited to doing conditioning, and Martin’s statement Friday was the best news about the center so far since he has been out.
“He’s progressing well on the floor,” Martin said. “Our doctors and trainers do a great job, but it’s also how he feels.”
Martin also said Mark Smith, who left the Georgia game with a lower back injury, would be a game-time decision. Smith played the first half of the game before coming off the court and sitting the rest of the game. Missouri would gladly welcome the chance to be at full-strength as it dives into a crucial stretch of three very winnable games.
Reed Nikko’s emergence
The Tigers have missed Tilmon’s presence, but the combination of Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith contributing solid efforts have helped to minimize the absence somewhat. Nikko had his best game as a Tiger Tuesday night, scoring 13 points and blocking Georgia’s Anthony Edwards at the rim in the closing seconds.
“It’s a big confidence builder for me,” Nikko said of his performance and increased playing time. “I’m just going to keep trying to be aggressive, just keep trying to make plays.”
Missouri fans have surely enjoyed watching Nikko emerge as a contributor. There haven’t been many players to give four full years to the program in the past decade of instability. In fact, Ryan Rosburg, Kevin Puryear and Nikko are the only three scholarship players to play four years for the Tigers since the departure of Frank Haith.
He has grown into a force that opposing coaches have taken note of. After the game Tuesday, Georgia coach Tom Crean brought him up before even sitting down for the post-game press conference, saying, “You have to recruit the Reed Nikkos of the world.” Nikko’s teammates have been impressed as well.
“Reed’s done a great job for us,” Dru Smith said. “I think his confidence is continuing to grow. The more and more he’s in, the more that we get him the ball, the more confident he’ll be. I think he had a great couple days of practice.”
The 6-10 center has averaged 5.9 points per game in his starts this season, also contributing solid defense in Tilmon’s absence. Axel Okungo has also found his way into playing time as well.