As Missouri opened up a large lead on Northern Kentucky during the early portion of the second half Friday, it became clear that “Smith & Smith” were leaving an indelible mark on the game.
Guards Dru Smith and Mark Smith were the two most talked about of the Smiths throughout the preseason. Dru’s point guard skills combined with Mark’s scoring ability were going to make them a dangerous duo in the backcourt. Left out of the equation was forward Mitchell Smith, who was assumed to be in a reserve role, but also expected to have to battle Kobe Brown, Tray Jackson and even Reed Nikko for minutes.
Against the Norse on Friday, though, Mitchell proved all three of the Smiths would be integral to the Tigers’ success.
Mitchell scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, Mark had a game-high 19 points and also grabbed six boards, and Dru managed to score nine and record three assists and two steals while fighting through foul trouble as Missouri topped Northern Kentucky, 71-56.
Mitchell Smith had an efficient night shooting, hitting 4 of 6 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts. Against Incarnate Word on Wednesday, he missed all four of his shot attempts, so his output was more than welcome as the Tigers tried to widen the gap toward the end of the second half.
Though he’s no Tim Duncan — the San Antonio Spurs legend and future NBA Hall of Famer — Mitchell flashed a little bit of The Big Fundamental about midway through the second half.
At the 13:59 mark, Mitchell found himself alone with the ball at the high post. Rather than drive to the rim, Mitchell took a page out of Duncan’s playbook and kissed it off the glass for the easy bucket.
“Coach (Chris) Hollender, he makes us shoot those all the time off the glass, (but) man, I hate shooting them off the glass. Like, who does that?” Mitchell said. “But, I mean, it worked out tonight. I’m glad I made it.”
He was also active on the boards, but his team-leading rebound total shouldn’t come as a surprise. At 6-foot-10, Mitchell will be relied on to keep crashing the boards when he’s the primary big on the floor.
“It was definitely amazing (to see Mitchell have a big game). I was proud of him. I was happy for him,” forward Kobe Brown said. “I was hoping to give him the ball more, he just came in and did what he did, what we all expect him to do.”
The other Smith who went scoreless Wednesday, Mark, completely flipped the script with his 19-point output. He was stellar to start the game, getting a layup to start the scoring before hitting back-to-back 3s as he scored eight of the team’s first 10 points.
Head coach Cuonzo Martin said after the win that it was only a matter of time before Mark’s shots started falling. As long as Mark kept letting the game come to him, he wasn’t going to put up another zero on the scoreboard.
“I never worried about Mark’s shot, I really didn’t, because of the time he puts into it,” Martin said. “Whenever he shoots it, I think it’s going in. I think the biggest thing for me with Mark was not trying to get seven or eight months back in two days. Just let the game come to you.”
Though he ended up finishing with nine points, Dru Smith shot just 2 of 9 from the field and didn’t score in the first half for the second game in a row. He also picked up his third foul early in the second half, which put Missouri in a bind at point guard since Xavier Pinson was in foul trouble as well.
But Dru found other ways to contribute while he was on the floor.
Dru recorded three assists and two steals, but his on-ball defense was perhaps the best part of his performance on the night. Dru is the one who’s constantly on the other team’s best offensive player, and he can flip from running the offense to playing lockdown defense in an instant.
Case in point: Coming out of halftime, Brown missed a layup, grabbed his own rebound and scored on the second attempt. While the rest of the team turned to run back down the floor, Dru immediately manned up on the inbound and forced a travel as the Tigers were on the verge of pulling away.
Missouri won’t need all three Smiths to be at the top of the scoreboard on any given night. It won’t even need all three to be at the top of their game to beat some opponents.
Because if one Smith struggles in one area, there will always be two other Smiths to pick up the slack.