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Study Hall: Texas A&M 68, Mizzou 59

For 63 minutes against A&M this season the Tigers were dominant. For the final 17 on Saturday night, they were dominated.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I realize this is disappointing. After Torrence Watson knocked down a 3-pointer, Missouri held a 12-point lead over Texas A&M and seemed to have countered an initial flurry from the Aggies after halftime. Instead, it all went south in a game where the Tigers couldn’t overcome the absence of Jontay Porter, Mark Smith, and Jeremiah Tilmon. The Aggies shortened their bench, while Mizzou’s slow shooting night resulted in a train wreck of a second half for the Tigers.

Over the last 17:15 seconds of the game, the Aggies scored as many points as they in teams’ first meeting last month in College Station. For one half, MU’s defense smacked the Aggies around, but it went missing, letting A&M escape Columbia a series split for the season.

The end result crowded out another quality outing from Watson, whose shooting stroke remains cool but productive enough to match his improved play on the defensive end. Fellow freshman. Javon Pickett had another excellent game as well.

But missing Mark Smith for a fifth consecutive game and the lack of Tilmon, who was sitting after emergency dental surgery, crippled the Tigers’ offensively.

Team Stats

study hall tamu2 2019 team stats
  • Free-throw defense remains elite, but the Tigers can’t get to the line: The Tigers are in a bit of a weird situation. They are awful at drawing fouls but tend to foul a lot defensively. MU’s team defense can hold its own, coach Cuonzo Martin’s group gives opponents plenty of chances to pile up free points. While at the same time they don’t generate free points for themselves. On the offensive end, though, MU ranks 332nd in Division for scoring around the rim on non-post-up plays and creating free throws on those rim attacks, according to Synergy Sports. Only Rutgers and Oklahoma State are worse in this category among high-major programs.

While A&M was on their run, Mizzou lacked answers offensively because their available options haven’t had much seasoning. A&M zeroed in on MIzzou’s biggest threat, Jordan Geist, and limited the damage he was able to cause. Without Geist, Tilmon or Smith as threats, the Tigers offense relied a little too much on Watson and Pickett. Just take a look at the chart below.

Over 13:20, the Tigers only hit five shots and didn’t attempt a free throw.

  • Missouri won the BCI battle — just not in the second half: Ball handling has been an issue for Mizzou all year, and they were at 1.62 for the game. That’s not bad for this group, but the real story is what happened after the break. MU’s second-half BCI was just 0.89, while A&M sported a 1.5 mark. Neither is great, but the Tigers were in no position to give away possessions.
  • Tilmon’s absence was also acute defensively in the second half: The Aggies scored the same number of points (29) on dunks, layups and free throws as Mizzou tallied as a team after the break. They also posted a plus-8 rebound margin, choking off MU from getting extra possessions or easy points on the offensive glass. Finally, Texas A&M finished the game shooting 76.5 percent (13 of 17) at the rim.

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Jordan Geist, Javon Pickett, Xavier Pinson

study hall tamu2 2019 gmsc

Mizzou probably needed a bigger performance from Geist and didn’t get it. On a typical night with more pieces around him, the senior’s handiwork would have helped propel MU to a comfortable win. Instead, A&M hounded him from the start. Wendell Mitchell and T.J.Starks tracked him closely most of the night, with Aggies coach Billy Kennedy daring the rest of Mizzou’s roster to beat them. The Tigers couldn’t pull it off.

Now, we’ve seen freshmen step up at times to take on the mantle of leading MU for stretches of games, but it’s still unreasonable to expect Pickett, Watson, and Pinson to bail MU on a night like Saturday. The trio logged for 89 minutes and launched 32 shots, posting a respectable 31.1 game score in the process.

But as Martin noted in his postgame comments, the Tigers needed something from their frontcourt, which was a bit of a black hole. Reed Nikko buoyed the effort in the first half, but he struggled against Christian Mekowulu’s athleticism once the Aggies big man stayed out of foul trouble. Again, K.J. Santos and Mitchell Smith were ghosts in the box score, going scoreless and only mustering 12 points. (The Tigers were also minus-12 with Smith playing at combo forward.) Kevin Puryear turned in a solid outing — seven points and seven rebounds — but it was the 10th straight game posted a solid line of seven points and seven rebounds, but this was the 10th consecutive game where the senior failed to hit double figures in points for a team that struggles to score.

study hall tamu2 2019 player%

It’s rare for me where I can look at this specific chart and easily see a loss. Mostly I’ve carried on Study Hall using Bill’s format and tried to insert my own thoughts. Yet I didn’t know before the season how I wanted to present some of the items listed here or change it up. I can say this with certainty, though: having just two players with a floor percentage north of 40.0 and only two drawing fouls won’t cut it.

While all of it ended badly, and I get the frustration, I think we need a bit of centering after the loss.

Texas A&M’s best five were just better than what MU could put on the floor last night. Both teams were limited, with A&M down to only six scholarship players and Missouri at just eight. Under those conditions, you can’t have a pair of scholarship players — Smith and Santos — give you performances reminiscent of walk-ons.

If A&M didn’t have Mekowulu, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Nikko might have been enough to nurse MU through. Mitchell was better than anyone on Mizzou’s roster with 20 points in 32 minutes. After a sluggish start, Starks rebounded to finish with 15 points, and Savion Flagg added in 12. That’s 62 points. Brandon Mahan completed the scoring for A&M with six points. That’s their scoring all right there. Five of the Aggies six scholarship players gave them what they needed, and those five were already in the Aggies top-seven producers, including the three leading options in its rotation.

Mizzou couldn’t say the same. The Tigers only got production from six players, and they were missing their most talented perimeter and interior threats. The math isn’t hard. Yet watching a double-digit lead evaporate naturally produces some anxiety and frustration. MU had the lead in the second half and couldn’t find get a defensive stop or easy bucket to halt A&M’s run. But back in October, it this how you’d envision your shooting attempts would go while A&M was making a run?

Assuming Tilmon returns on Tuesday, Missouri should have a shot to beat Arkansas, but they had Mark Smith against the Hogs last go around and couldn’t get it done. So with or without Smith, the Tigers are gonna have their work cut out for them. At least being at home maybe a few extra jumpers fall early and often enough to carry them.