Mizzou had extended their lead by to seven on a Torrence Watson three after South Carolina cut the lead to four. Within seconds Keyshawn Bryant raced down and converted a layup and on the ensuing possession Watson missed a three point attempt. As the shot caromed off the rim you could sense the mood in the building sink, another double digit second half lead in jeopardy. But the Tigers had something still to give.
Reed Nikko rebounded the miss, 20 seconds later Watson found himself open again and this time buried the shot pushing the lead to eight. Then Nikko blocked a shot attempt on the other end, and converted a dunk on a dish from Kevin Puryear and the energy was back in the building, the ghosts of leads blown throughout the year dissipated and the Tigers walked to an easy win.
They even had time for some run with Adam Wolf. Wolf had enough time take a charge.
All in all a pretty good day for a team that hasn’t had a lot of good days lately.
- Generally holding your opponent to under a point a possession can win you a lot of games: And here is where the importance of knowing your opponent plays in, South Carolina got to 9-6 in conference play by shooting the 3-pointer at a clip higher than anyone in league play. South Carolina only attempted 14 threes in a 70 possession game, and that was largely by design. Missouri forced the worst 2FG% shooting team int he SEC to take more two point shots. If averages had held, SC would have taken around 24 attempts from deep, and had they hit on their league average of nine treys in 24 attempts the game changes significantly. But the Tigers defensive game plan worked, they ran SC off the 3-line and forced them to take tough guarded shots and they didn’t make them, like they normally don’t.
- Meanwhile, the Tigers attacked the interior of the Gamecocks Defense: considering Torrence Watson was the only Tiger who seemed able to get his 3-point shot to fall, their ability to convert around the rim — something that’s been a bit of a challenge all season — was the difference in the game. Missouri had twice as many 3-point makes as SC but they made their mark attacking the rim. Converting around the basket has been a challenge but maybe it’s a small sign of some of the guys figuring it out that Mizzou hit its best mark of the season in the third to last regular season game.
- The rebounding edge goes to the Tigers.... again: Mizzou has certainly begun to emulate their head coach. Rebound, rebound, rebound.
Your Trifecta: Kevin Puryear, Torrence Watson, Reed Nikko
I can’t express how happy I am for Kevin Puryear to finally have this sort of game. His absence from the offensive production column, and the hole in the lineup from the four spot has been talked about in this space and others ad nauseam, has been a major issue for Missouri all season. A line to 18, 6, 3 is something Missouri was likely to get from Jontay Porter, so to get that from Kevin Puryear just relieves pressure all over the roster. Now Jordan Geist can afford an off shooting night, and Javon Pickett doesn’t have to be great either.
It also obviously helps that Torrence Watson flashed what we’d long been hoping to see, and you can just see the confidence growing in him. He’s better on drives and even had two and-1 baskets around the rim. His shooting has been more consistent, his drives are getting better, but I think the key to all of this has been how confident he’s been on the defensive end of the floor.
Tilmon had minor foul concerns but this matchup for Nikko was a good one. He matches up with Maik Kotsar and Felipe Haase well, and was able to get a couple switches to take advantage of. He bulldozed Keyshawn Bryant for an easy two (only to be baptized by Bryant later in the game), and had a couple uproariously thundering dunks which got the crowd going. The combination of Nikko and Tilmon: 38 minutes, 16 points, 12 boards, 3 blocks. That’ll play.
Nikko was so good his Floor% was 100%, in fact Mizzou hit the magically mark of getting four players above the 40% mark, and Puryear and Tilmon were even over 50%.
For most of conference play South Carolina has ridden a fair amount of luck in close games to win nine games, while Missouri has had rotten luck. The Tigers are a few decent breaks from... well, not being a 4-seed in the tourney... but certainly putting a few more thousand people in the building on most nights. And while we’ve long talked about this being a foundational year for the program, and to an extent, the mission has largely been accomplished from that point of view. But a few more wins here and there will always help. Missouri isn’t in a position to really move up the ladder for the SEC tournament, but they do have two tossup games left, one at Georgia and then the final home game against Ole Miss. Finish 1-1 in that stretch and I think people are feeling a lot better about the season then they were before Saturday.