You can excuse Frank Martin for feeling less than pleased.
His Gamecocks, who recently rose as high as 9-4 in the SEC despite a 5-7 record heading into conference play, fell below .500 on Saturday for the first time since Jan. 5 after losing to a green Missouri squad.
But Martin’s postgame ire was directed at one player in particular — his best player, 6-foot-9 forward Chris Silva. The senior had fouled out after just 15 minutes of play.
“I— I—” Martin struggled to find the words to sum up his frustration.
“I’ve been down that road for four years, man. You know? I can’t— obviously, I can’t coach guys that keep fouling. He got zero rebounds. I mean, just, I don’t know. He was disengaged today. Hewasn’t in a good place, and I have no idea why.”
Silva’s struggles sealed shorthanded South Carolina’s (14-15, 9-7 SEC) fate. Missouri (13-15, 4-12 SEC) beat the Gamecocks 78-63 in a wire-to-wire victory at Mizzou Arena, snapping a four-game skid. The visitors played without freshman guard A.J. Lawson, their second-leading scorer, because of an ankle injury. The Tigers, of course, are without theirsecond-leading scorer, sophomore guard Mark Smith, because of an ankle/foot injury of his own.
Torrence Watson produced a career night, dropping 20 points on 7 for 13 shooting, including 4-for-9 from 3. The freshman guard looked more comfortable both launching from deep and attacking the basket than he has at any point in black and gold.
Kevin Puryear scored 18 points despite attempting only seven field goals, making five. The senior added six boards and used a couple of nifty post moves to goad Silva into at least two of his fouls, putting some of the interior issues that have plagued his season at bay for at least one game.
Jordan Geist scored 15 points on 4 of 11 shooting, although the senior missed six treys without a make and committed five turnovers.
Redshirt senior Hassani Gravett led South Carolina with 20 points to tie Watson for the game high. Freshman Keyshawn Bryant dropped 15 and snatched seven rebounds. Silva still managed 12 points and shot 4-for-8 in his limited action.
Frank Martin’s Silva situation might hit home for Missouri. The situation resembles Cuonzo Martin’s struggle to keep Jeremiah Tilmon on the floor. (By the way, the sophomore didn’t foul out, but he was limited to eight points and eights boards in 20 minutes thanks to four fouls.) The latter Martin has never used language as strong as the word “disengaged” to describe Tilmon’s issues — he’s a staunch defender of the big man’s character. Still, Tilmon’s continued run-ins with the refs have begun to frustrate his coach, and Martin admitted as much after the team’s last game against Mississippi State.
“At some point Jeremiah has to recognize and really take ownership and figure out the best way (to avoid fouls),” he said on the KTGR interview.
Despite Tilmon’s limited minutes, the Tigers outrebounded their opponent for the sixth straight game. They enjoyed a 29-19 advantage overall and a 10-8 edge on the offensive glass.
The Gamecocks used a zone defense for most the game, but it didn’t faze Missouri. Aside from a stretch of 4 minutes, 20 seconds in the middle of the first half during which the Tigers committed six turnovers, they coughed it up only nine times. The Tigers moved the ball well and created several open looks both down low and on the perimeter (although many of those 3-pointers didn’t fall; the team shot 24 percent beyond the arc).
After falling behind by as much as 52-39 midway through the second half, South Carolina made one final push. With 8:37 to play, the Gamecocks went on a 10-3 run (Missouri’s only points came on Watson’s second and-1 drive of the game). An uber-athletic Bryant slam cut the deficit to four for the first time since the period was less than a minute old.
Watson, however, answered with a 3-pointer, and after Bryant slashed his way to the rim for two more, Watson dropped another to extend Missouri’s lead to 64-56. A forceful Reed Nikko dunk 40 seconds later elicited the type of roar rarely heard from Tiger fans at Mizzou Arena this season, and Frank Martin called timeout in a desperate attempt to stem the tide.
When Silva fouled out on a Puryear pump fake with 1:44 to play, and the latter hit both free throws to extend Missouri’s lead to 10, the game was all but over.
The Tigers looked solid on offense in the first half outside of their seemingly obligatory turnover-plagued stretch, but they really picked it up in the second. After scoring 29 points in the first period, they dropped 49 after halftime.
“I was scared that we’d get tired (because of our lack of depth), which happened,” Frank Martin said. “Gravett, he’s an athlete, he’s in great shape. But the other ones got tired on me. So we lost the intensity that we had in our zone defensively.”
Gravett kicked off the second half with an easy layup, but Puryear answered right away, landing a hook shot over Silva. That kickstarted an 8-0 run fueled largely by Geist, who dropped two fast-break layups in the sequence, including one steal-and-score. The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes, as Missouri’s lead stayed between nine and 13 for a span of 3:57. Both Silva and Tilmon committed their fourth fouls during this stretch.
Geist and Puryear ended Missouri’s run of first-half turnovers with consecutive baskets to extend the lead to 22-15. After a pair of Gamecock jumpers, however, South Carolina climbed back within a point after making both free throws resulting from Tilmon’s second foul, which came with 3:51 to play in the first half. A 7-2 Missouri run, which included a Watson trey and was capped off by Nikko pump-faking his way to a one-hand reverse stuff, pushed the Tigers to a 29-25 halftime lead.
With 14:12 to play in the first half, Gravett hit a trey to pull South Carolina within 11-9, before the Tigers went on a 7-0 run thanks to scores from Tilmon, Watson and Puryear. The Gamecocks quickly trimmed the deficit to three thanks in part to a rough defensive shift for K.J. Santos. On three consecutive possessions, the sophomore committed a pair of fouls resulting in four points and, in between the infractions, was bullied in the paint by 6-foot-6 backup forward Alanzo Frink for a layup. Cuonzo Martin removed Santos from the floor after his second foul.
Javon Pickett opened the scoring by dropping in a 3 from a couple feet beyond the arc. He missed a second trey attempt shortly afterward, but Tilmon corralled it and dumped it in for two points. However, the big man was whistled for an atrocious phantom call not 30 seconds later — it appeared Tilmon didn’t even make contact with the Gamecock who fell to the floor behind him. The sophomore took a seat about four minutes into the period, and his substitute, Nikko, responded with a pair of quick baskets to stake Missouri to an 11-6 lead.
Tilmon is a talented player who alters the course of the game almost every time he’s on the floor. Some referees seem to watch him with an ultra-sensitive whistle. But at the end of the day, it’s on the sophomore big man to take accountability for his own mistakes, of which there are many, and make the proper adjustments.
Silva is an example of the frustrating future that could lie in store for Tilmon if he can’t clean up his trouble with the referees.
But he also represents Tilmon’s promising potential and the massive emphasis Missouri needs to place on getting his pesky fouls under control sooner rather than later.