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Despite slow start, Missouri steamrolls Incarnate Word in season-opener

The Tigers couldn’t find a rhythm for much of the first half, but a huge slam from Jeremiah Tilmon sparked Missouri to a huge win.

Courtesy of @MizzouHoops Twitter

This is supposed to be Jeremiah Tilmon’s year.

The junior big has had two frustrating seasons marred by foul trouble to begin his Missouri career. There has been speculation that Tilmon could leave school after the season and make the jump to the pros, but for that to happen, he will need to prove he can be the dominant post player the Tigers envisioned when Tilmon signed back in 2017.

If his performance against Incarnate Word is any indication of what’s to come, Tilmon should have a very good chance at hearing his name called on draft night.

Missouri struggled out of the gate, with the Tigers making just three of their first 12 shot attempts against the Cardinals. Missouri had managed to maintain its lead for most of the first half, but Incarnate Word was still knocking on the door, cutting the lead to just six with 8 minutes, 37 minutes left in the half.

But Tilmon made sure the Cardinals wouldn’t get any closer.

Sophomore guard Xavier Pinson brought the ball up the court and found Tilmon in the paint. Not wanting to just lay it in, Tilmon turned around and threw it down with an Incarnate Word defender draped all over him. Thirty seconds later, Tilmon hit a layup on another assist from Pinson, then easily swatted a shot at the other end.

“I feel like whenever I get going, that helps the team because they see me going with the pace, just flowing,” Tilmon said. “When they see me get going, I feel like they feed off that energy and that turns them up.”

That sequence sparked a 21-10 Missouri run to end the half, and the Tigers dominated the Cardinals in the second half en route to an 82-42 win.

Tilmon had the best performance of the night dropping a team-high 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Though he had four fouls on the night, he spread them out enough for him to remain on the floor to bully overmatched Incarnate Word defenders.

Recently eligible guard Dru Smith didn’t score the ball throughout the first half, but he ended the game with eight points and five assists. In his place, Pinson shined, dropping 15 points, five assists and grabbing three rebounds.

“I think so,” Martin said when asked if Pinson is doing better at making the simple plays. “It takes time. The game is fast, it’s a physical game. He’s done a good job with his body, (and) he has to take what they give him.”

Freshman forward Kobe Brown started off the game missing two bad 3-pointers within the first 1:03, which was a harbinger for Missouri’s struggles on the night from behind the arc.

The Tigers missed their first seven 3s of the game before sophomore wing Javon Pickett knocked in the team’s first with 11:37 left in the first half. The 3-point shooting didn’t improve much, if at all, for the rest of the game, as Missouri finished just 7 of 31 from 3. Smith and Pinson’s assist totals could have been much higher, as a large chunk of their flashiest passes ended up being missed 3-point attempts.

But with the Tigers facing a clearly overmatched opponent, their shooting woes didn’t have much of an effect on the outcome. Eight different players scored at least six points, including the hyped freshman class, who combined for 22 points on the night.

The freshmen trio of Brown, Mario McKinney, Jr., and Tray Jackson scored their first points in the first half, and all came in pretty spectacular fashion.

McKinney was first, moving through the lane and finishing a smooth and-1 at the 12:40 mark. Brown was next, making a nice spin move in the lane for a layup just under three minutes later. And Jackson’s came on arguably the assist of the night, finishing a fast break with a two-handed slam off a no-look pass from Pinson.

“Coming out shooting, I had two wide-open looks and didn’t hit them, so I figured get my legs under me (and) do something else,” Brown said. “I had the two points, kind of helped with that, and it just came around.”

Missouri built as large as a 46-point lead in the second half, stayed out of foul trouble for the most part and kept the turnover total relatively low compared to the previous couple of seasons— all recipes for success in college basketball.

But as the team moves forward and begins to face stiffer competition, it’ll have to improve on its 23% night from deep.

“If you make some more of those 3s, it’s probably a different game, from a scoring standpoint,” Martin said. “Because they were open 3s. It’s one thing if you’re shooting tough, contested 3s, you’re shooting them deep. (...) But if they’re open shots, that’s all you can ask for.”