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Missouri drops to 0-2 in SEC with loss to South Carolina

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Javon Pickett played the best game of his young college career, but a third straight game with little production from Jeremiah Tilmon led to the Tigers second-straight loss.

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Missouri sophomore big Jeremiah Tilmon received the ball in the post with 13 minutes left in the game Sunday, guarded by South Carolina’s Chris Silva.

Tilmon had been playing under a microscope by the refs, being called for four fouls already. Tilmon tried to make a move toward the bucket, but Silva pulled the chair out from under him and both men went to the floor.

The referee’s whistle blew and Tilmon was called for an offensive foul, causing him to slam his arm down in frustration and sending him to the bench for the remainder of the game.

The Tigers (9-5, 0-2 SEC) kept this one close against the Gamecocks (8-7, 3-0 SEC), closer than most would have expected with Tilmon once again in foul trouble . But Missouri could not close the gap, falling to South Carolina 85-75 in Columbia East.

Missouri’s scoring was led by freshman wing Javon Pickett and guards Mark Smith and Jordan Geist, who dropped 21, 14 and 14 points, respectively.

Disclaimer: the first half could have gone much worse for Missouri.

The Tigers coughed up 11 turnovers over the first 20 minutes — including seven in just the first seven minutes alone — and allowed South Carolina to shoot 19 free throws while taking just four themselves. But Missouri did play to its strength as the best three-point shooting team in the Southeastern Conference, draining seven of its 11 treys to end the half down just six.

Geist, Pickett and freshman wing Torrence Watson led the Tigers with seven points apiece in the half, with Geist also putting up a team-high three assists at the break.

After playing just nine minutes against Tennessee because of foul trouble, Missouri needed Tilmon to stay on the court to have a shot against the Gamecocks. But just 19 seconds into the game, Tilmon picked up his first foul. He picked up No. 2 with 11:19 left to play and went to the bench for the rest of the half.

This left a hole down low for most of the half, allowing South Carolina to go on multiple runs on offense — including 8-0 and 10-0 runs throughout the period. But a couple of late threes from sophomore guard Mark Smith gave Missouri a small spark, and they went to the locker room down 42-36.

The Gamecocks started the second half on a 10-3 run, aided by another two quick fouls on Tilmon to open up its largest lead of the game. The Tigers responded with an 8-0 run of its own, though, cutting the lead back down to five. But with just under 13 minutes left, Silva forced Tilmon into his fifth foul, leaving Missouri down a player for the rest of the day.

Over his last three games, Tilmon’s totals don’t look like the player Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin hoped had turned a corner heading into the season. Tilmon has played just 34 minutes, scored 11 points and grabbed 3 rebounds while committing nine turnovers and 15 fouls.

In Tilmon’s absence, though, Pickett continued to shine.

He dropped 14 points in the half, shooting 4-for-6 from the field, 2-for-3 from beyond the arc and 4-for-4 from the charity stripe to keep the Tigers as close as 73-70 with 3:13 remaining.

But Missouri just couldn’t close the gap.

Silva and Keyshawn Bryant’s combined 20 points in the second half proved to be the difference, and Missouri’s 20th turnover of the game on a charge by Watson with 1:43 left essentially put the nail in the coffin.