Xavier Pinson picked up his third foul with 6:09 remaining in the first half of Missouri’s (10-11, 2-6 SEC) matchup with South Carolina (13-8, 5-3 SEC) on Saturday. It was a big deal.
Why? Because for almost the entirety of the half, he was really the only thing working offensively for Missouri.
Pinson hit a 3-pointer at the 16:22 mark. Then another at the 13:33 mark. Then another at the 7:24 mark. He was 3-for-3 from deep in the first 13 minutes of the game, but in that same time frame, those were the only baskets the Tigers made. If not for two free throws from Dru Smith, Pinson would’ve been the lone Missouri player to score at that point in the game.
The Tigers had multiple roughly three-minute scoreless stretches in the first half. Add enough of those together and you find a team with just 12 points in the first eight minutes. It was sort of unbelievable that Missouri was within five points near the midway point of the half, but once South Carolina started knocking down shots, the Tigers never really got close again as they fell 76-54.
With the pre-game update that both Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon were out, Missouri knew it would need multiple players to step up again.
But Pinson was the sole player who answered the call for a while, and only a few jumpers and a couple of Javon Pickett layups supported him. Pinson ended up being the only Tiger player to hit double-digits with 12 points.
Missouri’s saving grace could’ve been the charity stripe. The Tigers have been shooting free throws at an elite-level since Southeastern Conference play started, and the Gamecocks had the nation’s second-worst defensive free throw rate in the country according to KenPom. But by the time the buzzer sounded for halftime, Missouri had taken just three free throws, and South Carolina had taken 18.
The Gamecocks’ eight blocks helped cause the Tigers’ 6-for-20 shooting inside the arc, but all in all, it was just a bad first half.
It seems that Missouri has a penchant to dig themselves into an early hole and then try to get out of it. It doesn’t work out often, as the Tigers’ losses to Butler, Oklahoma and Mississippi State can attest, but sometimes that second half magic is there.
Against Georgia on Tuesday, Missouri erased a 20-point deficit with 13 minutes to play and walked away with a three-point victory. The Tigers would rather not fall behind and have to claw their way back in it, but they’ve shown that it can be done.
But Missouri didn’t have another magical comeback in them. Its second half performance wasn’t any easier to swallow than the first.
The Tigers managed to cut the deficit to nine on a Dru Smith free throw with 10:54 to play, but the Gamecocks immediately went on a 7-0 run to extinguish the threat. And that was the ballgame, as the 6-foot-11, 270 pound Maik Kotsar added 12 points and three boards to his nine points and eight rebounds from the first half to help extend the lead.
Missouri finally got into the bonus in the second half, but South Carolina continued to play suffocating defense. Between the 11:28 and the 3:56 marks, the Tigers couldn’t knock down a shot, and only five combined free throws from Dru Smith, Pinson and Reed Nikko kept them from going scoreless.
Missouri surpassed its first half total of 26 points when Jackson threw down a last-second dunk to get them to 28 in the second, but that’s hardly a positive.
The Tigers took a step forward in their come-from-behind win against the Bulldogs, but as has been the case for most of the season, they took two steps back against the Gamecocks.