It’s always amazing how often things come down to just one or two possessions. When the margin is 15 or 20 points, it’s likely that was always going to be the outcome. But when it’s less than 10 points everything hinges on a run here or there, a turnover at the wrong time, a slip on the floor giving up a drive.
This was Missouri’s night against Ole Miss. The Tigers weren’t great, they were barely good, but they were good enough to win. Except:
- With a five point lead and six minutes to play, Freshman guard Xavier Pinson lined up for a charge as Ole Miss forward K.J. Buffen barreled down the lane. He bailed on the charge, took the block, Buffen converted the shot and the free throw to cut the lead to two.
- Down by a point with under five minutes to play, Pinson passed out loosely to Torrence Watson who couldn’t retain his balance and threw the ball away, leading to a run out dunk for Devontae Shuler extending the Ole Miss lead to three.
- The Tigers regained their lead, on a 3-pointer from Watson and some Free Throws from Pinson, but couldn’t corral a rebound on a missed shot and when the kickout when to Terence Davis, Watson slipped on his close out. Davis drove and dunked over Tilmon for an And-1 and made the free throw to tie the game.
- On the next possession Pinson turned the ball over, leading to another run out for Shuler to converted the layup to go up two.
After that layup, Shuler would make another jumpshot to give the Rebels a four point lead and that would be it. A couple ill-timed turnovers, a missed charge, and a slip on the floor and Missouri loses the game.
- Mizzou again won the rebounding battle: but it wasn’t in the convincing way we’ve become accustomed to of late. They were only +5 in raw rebounding numbers which is disappointing when they were +13 (and +8.7 expected) in Oxford. Ole Miss isn’t a great rebounding team and the Tigers are but they weren’t as effective yesterday which is why I give the Rebels the edge. Playing without Javon Pickett — who was sitting out with some minor back ailments — and Mark Smith weakened Mizzou’s perimeter rebounding.
- Narrowly losing the BCI battle is progress? Mizzou kicked the ball all over The Pavilion at Ole Miss a few weeks back, but they handled the pressure pretty well at home... except down the stretch. Late turnovers by Ronnie Suggs, Pinson, and Watson were enough to let the Rebels get easy points.
- Not a terrible offensive performance by the numbers: but it certainly wasn’t a crisp performance. The Tigers were too often bailed out by Pinson who was playing with a lot of confidence. Ole Miss didn’t do a great job on Pinson, but they forced Jordan Geist to give up the ball a lot, and limited Jeremiah Tilmon. Both Geist and Tilmon have been Mizzou’s top two scoring options for much of the season and both had trouble finding shots.
Your Trifecta: Xavier Pinson, Jordan Geist, Jeremiah Tilmon
On the season: Jordan Geist 54 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 30 points, Mark Smith 25 points, Javon Pickett 19 points, Xavier Pinson 14 points, Kevin Puryear 14 points, Torrence Watson 13 points, Ronnie Suggs 3 points, Reed Nikko 4 points, K.J. Santos 1 point.
So here is a perfect example of where watching the game and seeing the defensive movement and rotations have always left me slightly leery of the game score as a true identifier of value in a game.
Terence Davis was coming off a 25 point, 12 rebound performance against Kentucky and he’s averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds on the year. Against Missouri he had seven points and two rebounds. Torrence Watson guarded Davis for much of the game, and were it not for a slip on a wet spot caused by Breein Tyree hitting the deck shortly before, Watson would have held him to four points and probably would have led Missouri to the win.
Here’s my case for Watson as the MVP. On top of his defensive efforts against Davis, Watson was 4 out of 8 from the floor, and 3 of 5 from 3-point range before a couple late attempts went off the rim in the scuffle to try and catch up. His 14 points coupled with his defense was probably enough to win the game had Mizzou gotten a couple better breaks.
Still, offensively Xavier Pinson was really good, so he gets the top spot. However, most of Pinson’s points were not in the flow of the offense. He took advantage of some late clock action and got down hill and converted. I am happy about his performance offensively because Mizzou needs him to be a fixture next year and beyond. But he was also responsible for guarding Shuler, who was the game MVP in KenPom and had 18 points and a 167 ORtg. Pinson is a capable defender from an athleticism standpoint, but he’s still got some learning to do on that end.
The good news is it does look like Pinson has the ability to break down a defense and get a shot when the clock gets late. This skillset is something Missouri has largely lacked for the last two years.
The magic number of four players in Floor% above 40% and the Tigers lost. It would seem Geist, Tilmon, and Puryear needed a few more opportunities? I don’t know.
Tilmon didn’t convert like he’s capable of but the plan for the Rebels was a good one. They soft doubled on his catch, and hard doubled on the bounce. This forced the ball out of Tilmon's hands on just about every touch he had outside of a couple.
So it wasn’t the Senior night we envisioned, with Missouri pulling out the win. It also wasn’t the senior night Kevin Puryear or Jordan Geist likely wanted. It was in a lot of ways indicative of the season, a microcosm if you will.
Missouri was well coached, well prepared, and they executed... except when they didn't. Costly mistakes at inopportune times caused by either inexperience or maybe a lack of talent or depth submarined the Tigers and ultimately left them where they are now with the conclusion of the regular season. They’re 14-16 and inside the top 80 in KenPom. Not awful, not very good either.
College basketball is largely mired with a wealthy of mediocre teams jostling for a few positions within the middling seeds of the NCAA tournament. There are really few truly elite teams and everyone else is just a few breaks away from having a good season or a bad one. Missouri is a few breaks away. With some continuity and some experience and an infuse of talent and you create a few more breaks and suddenly you’re in the tournament. Add another year or two, more talent and more experience and you build a program.