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Study Hall: Mizzou 79, Arkansas 78

Missouri needed every ounce provided by Jeremiah Tilmon’s return to the lineup.

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When Xavier Pinson was called for an offensive foul after pushing off against Jalen Harris, causing the deepest convulsion through Harris’ body, you could feel the fatalism start to take hold in the minds of Missouri fans.

Clinging to a one-point lead after being ahead by 14 with 10 minutes to play, the script seemed to be painfully playing out again before our eyes. After squandering leads late in games to LSU and Texas A&M, it looked like MU was going to fumble away another win in a game it seemingly controlled.

Tuesday night was different, if only because MU had time to formulate a plan and set its defense out of a timeout. Cuonzo Martin deployed Ronnie Suggs’ 6-foot-6 length on the Harris, Jeremiah Tilmon on Daniel Gafford, and went with Kevin Puryear, Jordan Geist, and Javon Pickett to round things out. He leaned on experience and competitiveness.

The result: a stop and a win.

Team Stats

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  • It’s amazing the difference in the game basically comes down to .01 of a PPP: But this was a fairly even offensive game. Mizzou started really hot but cooled significantly in the second half without the support of consistent 3-point shooting. After shooting 40 percent from deep in the first half, MU only went 3 for 11 from long range after the break. What spared the Tigers was the face the Hogs never got cooking from outside, shooting just 25 percent (5 of 20) from behind the arc, and having to manufacture more of their points inside left them just short of a comeback.
  • Arkansas isn’t awful on the road, but the Hogs are still prone to big swings: Anderson’s tweaked his scheme over time, which allows it to travel when the Hogs leave Fayetteville. This season, though, the Hogs abundant youth makes it susceptible to major flips like the ones we saw this season. In the first matchup, Mizzou’s BCI score was 0.48, compared to Arkansas 2.21. So coming out ahead at 1.45 to 1.17 on Tuesday with just a 16-percent turnover rate was critical in overcoming Arkansas’ defense.
  • After getting to the foul line just four times last game, they were able to get back to the line at a more reasonable rate: This specific team isn’t ever going to be one that has a super high free-throw rate, so anytime they can find success going to the line it’s a good thing.
NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Player Stats

Your Trifecta: Jeremiah Tilmon, Jordan Geist, Kevin Puryear

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On the season: Jordan Geist 42 points, Mark Smith 25 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 27 points, Javon Pickett 14 points, Kevin Puryear 11 points, Xavier Pinson 8 points, Torrence Watson 6 points, Reed Nikko 2 points.

Have yourself a game Mr. Tilmon: 21 points on 11 shots, and he even missed a couple chip shots he usually doesn’t. Tilmon wasn’t super active on the glass or even defensively, but the game plan seemed willing to trade a few buckets by Gafford around the rim in exchange for Tilmon keeping his foul count low. MU’s 2-point defense can take a hit if it means Tilmon plays 30 minutes and gives them that level of production. Yes, Gafford had 26 points, but the sophomore needed 17 shots and numerous flops to get there. MU’s defense made Gafford work and made him sore, and Tilmon benefitted.

Ronnie Suggs may have had the most impactful six minutes played in his career. He hit two huge shots and was a defensive key on the last possession. Oh and it was his birthday, so... Happy birthday, Ronnie!

While the freshman wings struggled for most of the night, Xavier Pinson had a lot of good moments on the glass and did enough offensively to offset the lack of production from the others. I’m not going to jump fully on the “Pinson was awesome bandwagon,” because he still had far too many poor decisions with the ball resulting in bad shots at the rim or turnovers. But you can really see the outline of a really nice college point guard.

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Welcome back to the YAY column for Kevin Puryear. He didn’t take a ton of shots and was passive offensively, but the senior saw some jumpers drop and provided another good night on the glass.

It’s really almost becoming comical how the combo forward spot can be a completely black hole for production. Aside from Puryear's improved play, K.J. Santos played seven minutes and made a free throw, and Mitchell Smith played seven minutes and made a 3-pointer. Any production has been better than what they’ve been getting, but if Puryear hadn’t been struggling with foul trouble he likely takes over more minutes in this game, and maybe the margin is wider.

I’m not sure this changes the season at all. Mizzou is still in rebuilding mode and hoping to get Mark Smith back for the weekend. Maybe they can pull off a huge upset in Oxford. (Who would have typed that sentence in the preseason?) According to KenPom, MU has just one more projected win on the schedule and two games left forecasted to be within a possession. The expectations are there, and the hope is to exceed them the rest of the way. Last night was at least a building block towards the more hopeful finish.