Whatever Southern Illinois’ defensive plans were coming into Saturday’s game against Missouri, Mark Smith shredded them. Just absolutely annihilated them.
Smith set a career high mark with 23 points, off an incredible 7-9 shooting performance from three to lead the Tigers to a dominating victory, 64-48.
It has been a Jekyll and Hyde type season for both Smith and the Tigers. Just as the offense has looked quite brutal at times this year, Smith has had five games where he has shot under 25% from three, including the last two outings against Temple and Charleston Southern.
But when he is on, it has been something to watch. Sunday marked Smith’s best performance of his career, the fifth game this season where he has scored at least 18 points and shot at least 50% from three.
“My shot’s been feeling a lot better lately,” Smith said after his performance that tied the Mizzou Arena record for three pointers made in a game. “After the Charleston Southern game, I kind of got back to getting up between 500-1000 shots, really focusing and locking in, and it’s really just the extra work that I’ve been putting in.”
For a team that has struggled to shoot the ball from deep, that is quite the welcome relief.
Missouri struggled to generate offense early, clawing for offense with the Salukis. Smith broke the game open with four consecutive three-pointers, opening up a 21-9 lead and forcing a timeout.
Outside of Smith’s shooting performance from deep, Missouri was just 1-14 from deep, partially due to Torrence Watson’s continued struggles. Watson finished 0-6 from three.
Instead, Missouri made up for the missed shots with an all-out assault on the offensive glass. Southern Illinois was out-rebounded 34-15, losing the offensive rebounding battle 14-4. Javon Pickett grabbed three offensive boards, and scored 12 points.
“We just felt like, as a staff, when you’re not getting three point shots falling, you have to find ways to really get other production,” Cuonzo Martin said. “With the size of Kobe, Jeremiah and Mitch out there, you have to be able to rebound to get extra possessions, and I though we did that tonight.”
Pickett’s off-the-ball movement was quite noticeable as well, with a handful of his layups coming thanks to perfect cuts to the basket. His offense was symbolic of Missouri doing best what Southern Illinois did worst: generating offense inside the paint.
“When they double team our bigs, I made sure that I got to the paint,” Pickett said. “The bigs find us, and they did a great job passing out of the double teams.”
Missouri scored 34 of its 64 inside the paint, good for a 53% field goal percentage. The Salukis, by contrast, scored just six points in the paint. The Tigers’ relentless defense held them to 18% shooting inside the arc.
Leading 33-22 at half, Missouri’s defensive intensity yielded just 8 points in the first 10 minutes of the second frame, allowing the lead to grow to to 25 at one point.
Outside of a couple defensive breakdowns on the perimeter, there was very little to find fault with on defense, even by Martin’s standards. Missouri improves to 6-4, winners of their last two.
The wins over Temple and Southern Illinois can be used to serve as crucial momentum builders heading into Braggin’ Rights at the end of this week. If the Tigers can record wins against Illinois and Chicago State heading into conference play, the season will feel a whole lot different than it did a few weeks ago.