With 13 minutes to play in the first half, SIU combo forward Brendon Gooch buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 9. By that point Missouri had relied upon the offense of Torrence Watson around the rim, Reek Nikko offensive rebounds, and a lone Dru Smith runner. The Tigers had four turnovers, six missed shots, and were looking like the lost team on offense that we’ve seen for much of the year.
Mark Smith had enough of that. On four consecutive possessions Smith buried 3-pointers, going on his own personal 12 point run to set the tone Missouri needed for the rest of the game. The Tigers would extend its lead to 26 with 7:55 to play when Smith canned his 7th three of the game.
In essence, they played like a decent SEC team should against a rebuilding Missouri Valley team like SIU. The final margin of 16 reflected better upon SIU thanks to a 9-0 run to close the game, after Mizzou had let their foot off the gas.
- Considering SIU took 26 free throws, it’s really remarkable how good the defense was. Nobody is going to confuse the Salukis with an offensive juggernaut, but whatever hope they had was choked out of them by a defense allowing just 0.82 points per possession. The free throw line was about the only way SIU was able generate points, getting just 25 points off made baskets. Taking away free throws would have dropped the Salukis to 0.423 points per possession, and 0.581 points per shot. Obviously, you can’t take away free throw points like that, and Missouri let the Salukis get to the line far too often... but it’s still good defense so I thought I’d point it out.
- So few made shots would be why they only had 4 assists also, and Missouri had 14 on 25 made baskets, which is a nice percentage (56% for those counting). Generally more assists means either more made jumpshots or guys are cutting and attacking, and while Mark Smith was making jumpshots, the rest of the team was doing a better job of getting to the rim. Posting a 1.09 point per possession is actually the Tigers’ second highest mark this season (Wofford was 1.22). It’s funny what a few made 3’s will do for the outlook of the offense.
- Another advantage for the Tigers... they wiped Southern Illinois off the glass completely. The Salukis don’t have great size, but they never had a chance. Missouri was +8.9 expected rebounds, +16 overall, and only gave up four offensive rebounds. For a team which struggled to make shots, really the only way SIU was going to score was the free throw line.
Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Javon Pickett, Dru Smith
On the season: Mark Smith 18 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 14 points, Dru Smith 12 points, Javon Pickett 8 points, Xavier Pinson 5 points, Mitchell Smith 3 points, Kobe Brown 2 points, Torrence Watson 1 point
Anytime you get one player to make 7 of 9 three pointers, you’re giving yourself a good shot to win. Mark Smith was terrific, so much so that he boosted himself above the 40% mark on the season from deep. Smiths 148.18 wasn’t even his best Offensive Rating for the season, but it’s becoming pretty clear that Smith is capable of boosting a less than pedestrian Missouri offense. While Dru Smith is a capable lead guard and runs the offense better than anyone, it’s Mark who stirs the offense’s drink.
With Torrence Watson mired in his enormous shooting slump and looking all kinds of out of sorts, Mark Smith has become the only real reliable shooter on the roster. As a team, Mizzou hit 35% from three, take away Smith’s 7 of 9 and that drops to 7.6%. I’m sorry, but LOL. It’s gotten comical.
- Mitchell Smith, 0-for-4
- Kobe Brown, 0-for-2
- Torrence Watson, 0-for-6
- Tray Jackson, 0-for-1
- Xavier Pinson, (hey!) 1-for-1
So how does a team shooting so poorly break out of their slump? Mark shooting well helps, but get closer shots! Maybe it’s out of necessity, but the Tigers still attack the rim well and tend to covert. They also crash to get enough offensive rebounds to make up a few extra possessions.
But what’s really helped the last few games has been Javon Pickett recapturing his aggressive attacking style and getting to and around the rim.
Jeremiah Tilmon disappeared, and despite never really being in foul trouble, he only played 17 minutes. Part of that was the design of the Salukis rotation; they were able to neutralize Tilmon to the baseline side by leaving a help defender on the ball side of the rim. Tilmon was spooked by the baseline double teams he saw against Temple and avoided those attacks. This forced him to work harder going into the middle.
The combat in the offense was weak side cuts and Pickett found the holes.
For about 35-40 possessions, Mizzou was dominant.
The Tigers scored 9 points in the first seven minutes, and just 1 point in the final five minutes. 54 points in the other 28 minutes is progress. We hope, right?
No team is going to play perfect basketball for the entire 40 minutes; you just try to eliminate bad possessions as much as possible. 70% of good certainly feels like a higher percentage than what we’ve seen so far. And even the last five minutes didn’t matter, so if you want to give them 75% that’s okay with me.
The effort will need to step up for Bragging Rights on Saturday. The Illini are likely ready to make up for getting their butts kicked swiftly last season, and they are in better position than Missouri in a hunt for an NCAA bid. It’s a pretty important game for both sides, the Tigers are behind the eight ball thanks to their loss to Charleston Southern. But Illinois is only a two point favorite, and they don’t have a good out of conference win to date. We’ll have more in the preview, but their best win is against 157th ranked Hawaii.
The Tigers only have two more games out of conference to make a statement, and Illinois is next.