There have been a lot of games this season that you wouldn’t call aesthetically pleasing. For the first 20 minutes, Mizzou and Georgia combined to miss every 3-point attempt and combined to shoot just 34 percent from the floor. But it wasn’t all bad because the Tigers did enough damage inside the arc to go into the locker room up 11 points.
The second half was much of the same for the Bulldogs, but Missouri had other plans. Up 29-14 after the first media timeout of the second half, I tweeted this:
It would be nice if Mizzou could make a three or two here with a double digit lead. The offense has actually been generating good looks.— Sam Snelling (@SamTSnelling) March 7, 2019
Apparently, the Tigers heard me. Torrence Watson hit the first 3-ball of the game for both teams. A short time later, Kevin Puryear canned a corner 3. Poof. Before the next media timeout, MU had put the distance between the two teams and led by 22.
The Tigers would make 6 of 9 3-pointers in the second half, growing its lead to as many as 29 points. Amazingly enough, Mizzou now has two 20-point road wins in league play in a season where a win in its season finale would help them .500. The win also vaulted them from 89th to 72nd in KenPom. Dare I say the Tigers might be figuring something out?
- One of the things they’ve definitely figured out is how to rebound: Missouri’s rebounding advantage the last few games has been downright abusive towards the opponent: plus-10 expected rebounds for and plus-22 in raw numbers on the glass. They’ve been on a roll against South Carolina (plus-4.3), Mississippi State (plus-6.7), Florida (plus-0.5) and Kentucky (plus-4.9). You have to go back to the Tigers’ loss against Texas A&M — a game they played without Jeremiah Tilmon — to find the last time this group was beaten on the glass.
- Obviously, the defensive numbers are going to look great: Holding your opponent under 40 points is going to make that possible. Still, allowing 0.76 points per shot shows you Missouri was locked in on its scouting report. There were some open shots for the Bulldogs, but they were taken by guys who weren’t likely to see them drop. Without Rayshaun Hammonds, the Tigers focused almost exclusively on Nicolas Claxton, and it paid off as Claxton attempted just six shots. Meanwhile, Turtle Jackson, Derek Ogbeide and the rest of the Bulldogs combined to make just 10 shots.
- The Tigers were obviously rattled by the Georgia free-throw defense: MU shot 33 percent from the line. That, folks, is ugly. Jeremiah Tilmon has been a reliable free-throw shooter for most of the season, but he had four ugly misses last night.
Your Trifecta: Jordan Geist, Torrence Watson, Reed Nikko
On the season: Jordan Geist 52 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 29 points, Mark Smith 25 points, Javon Pickett 19 points, Xavier Pinson 11 points, Kevin Puryear 14 points, Torrence Watson 13 points, Ronnie Suggs 3 points, Reed Nikko 4 points, K.J. Santos 1 point.
Watson’s been on a roll. When he missed his first three shots from behind the arc, it seemed surreal. Sure enough, he found the bottom of the net on five of his threes in the second half. Seeing the freshman come alive over the last four or five games has certainly been a fun subplot for the season.
I’m not sure where Geist’s 3-point shooting stroke has gone — he’s now just 2 for his last 18 — but if you go 8 out of 9 from inside the arc, it really doesn’t matter. Add in six assists, and you have the floor game from a senior leader that is making sure the season ends on a more positive note.
For the second straight game, welcome to the trifecta, Reed Nikko! Nikko is a very valuable guy as Tilmon’s backup, and the combined output — 16 points and 12 boards in 38 minutes — is identical to their last game.
Pinson is doing what he can right now to provide energy. He’s still a productive rebound, and his passing has been more consistent. That said, I thought he was forcing the issue a little too much last night. It might be the result of trying to play his way out of a slump. Pinson’s usage was close to 35 percent, which is awfully high for a freshman point guard who isn’t a great shooter. We’re hopeful this is just him experiencing some growing pains.
No minutes for K.J. Santos, while Cuonzo Martin gave the start and 17 minutes to Mitchell Smith. Despite some bad fouls, Smith went to the glass.
Sitting at 14-15 overall, Missouri can reach break even on Saturday by avenging a loss to Ole Miss. It’s also senior night for Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist (and Cullen VanLeer and Adam Wolf also). This team getting to .500 would actually be pretty special when you consider the adversity they’ve had to endure all season. The loss of Jontay Porter, the midseason injury to their most consistent wing and outside shooter in Mark Smith, multiple late-game losses and leads blown.
We reached a point long ago where the expectations for this season changed, and the perspective on what you were looking for was altered. There’s still hope.