Missouri extended its stay at the SEC tournament for at least 18 hours.
Behind a career-high 30 points from Jordan Geist, the 12th-seeded Tigers rolled to a 71-61 victory against Georgia on Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. MU advances to face fifth-seeded Auburn, who handed the Tigers a 34-point loss in late January.
The Tigers needed every bit of the senior’s grit on a night when foul trouble put MU in a bind and two members of its freshmen trio went dormant.
Unlike a week ago, when MU marched into Athens and dispensed a beatdown, the Tigers methodically pulled away to build a comfortable working margin. Knotted at 39-39, combo forward Mitchell Smith flashed to the free-throw line — and a soft spot in Georgia’s zone — to knock down a mid-range jumper on back-to-back possessions, putting MU ahead for good.
Geist, who went 9 of 15 from the floor and 10 of 13 at the free-throw line, then took firm grasp of the controls. The senior tallied eight of the Tigers’ next 12 points, helping MU extend the lead to 55-48 with 6:54 to go.
While Xavier Pinson chipped in 15 points, the rest of Cuonzo Martin’s rotation turned in a sluggish night, shooting a combined 34.2 percent (13 of 38) from the floor. No one else reached double figures. Torrence Watson, who had averaged 15.8 points over the past four games, missed all of five of his shots, avoiding a scoreless night by burying four free throws. Meanwhile, Javon Pickett struggled in his return from a back injury, going scoreless on 0 of 5 shooting.
Along the frontline, foul trouble hamstrung Jeremiah Tilmon and Reed Nikko, who only mustered 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
Fortunately, the Bulldogs were equally hamstrung on the offensive floor, shooting just 36.7 percent, including 4 of 19 from behind the 3-point arc. Despite a career-high 26 points from Jordan Harris, UGA’s backcourt slumped. Turtle Jackson, who suffered a shoulder injury in the game’s opening minutes, chipped in a lone bucket, while Tyree Crump went scoreless.
It took Tilmon sitting in a folding chair to create an opening for Georgia to exploit.
Once the Tigers’ sophomore went to the bench with his second foul, UGA used the remaining nine minutes of the half to rally and take a 34-32 lead into the break. No one benefited more than Nicolas Claxton, who scored nine of his 11 points with Tilmon watching from the sidelines. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were finally able to exert some muscle on the glass, yanking down four offensive rebounds and converting them into eight points.
In the second half, though, Martin rolled the dice and bet on Tilmon to be prudent in playing through foul trouble. With the steadying presence of rim protector in the middle of the floor, Claxton and Derek Ogbeide, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, found it tough to score over the top.
Here is the complete box score from the Tigers’ victory.