The Missouri Tigers opened SEC play in a highly anticipated top 15 matchup against the undefeated Tennessee Volunteers. However, Missouri did not get off to the start they were looking for. The Volunteers quickly demonstrated why they were picked to win the conference preseason, and jumped out to a white-hot start, shooting the ball 7-7 from the field. Tennessee also proved their dominance on defense early. Tennessee’s full court pressure from the opening tip gave Missouri problems and forced them to play at the Volunteers’ tempo. It was all Vols early, as Tennessee rapidly increased their lead thanks to a 15-0 run. By the first TV timeout, the Vols led 12-4. By the second TV timeout, Tennessee extended their lead to 21-4. The Tigers had no answer to combat Tennessee on defense. Dru Smith described the Tigers’ first half offense as, “pretty stagnant.”
Though the Tigers bent early, they would not break. Missouri cut into Tennessee’s lead and cut the deficit to twelve, holding the Volunteers without a field goal for over four minutes. The Volunteers and Tigers each displayed their grit on defense in the first half, but it was Tennessee who managed to convert more points off turnovers. Additionally, the Vols were uplifted by 4 first half blocks, 3 of which Yves Pons was responsible for.
Missouri never led in the first half, in large part thanks to poor shooting. The tigers only shot 32% from the field, while the Vols shot an impressive 54%, including 3-4 from beyond the arc. For comparison, Mitchell Smith had the lone three-point make for the Tigers, who shot a dismal 1-7 from three.
No one in particular stuck out for Missouri through the first half. Xavier Pinson led the team with 7 points, but shot a mere 1-4 from the field. The Tigers scored 10 of their 25 first half points from the charity stripe and trailed by 13 heading into the break.
The second half was more of the same. Santiago Vescovi continued to shoot the ball like a man possessed for Tennessee, and the Vols started the half on a mini 7-2 run, extending their lead 45-27. Missouri really struggled to get themselves back into the game, turning the ball over 6 times through the first five minutes in the second half. The Tigers also picked up 6 team fouls before the second TV timeout, which hurt any chance for a comeback. Tennessee kept their lead above 15 the majority of the second half.
Tennessee’s balanced offensive attack and depth off the bench proved to be too much for Missouri to handle, as the Vols finished with four players in double digits, including 23 points off the bench. Defensively, Tennessee had full control over the Tigers. Heading into the second TV timeout of the second half, the Tigers had 18 turnovers and only 10 field goals made in the entire game. At the same point, Tennessee had its largest lead at 28 points.
Mark and Dru Smith combined for only 12 points. Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said postgame that though teams do well to defend against guys like Mark Smith, it’s his job to put him in a position to score. Missouri suffered tonight shooting the ball and finished 3-16 from deep. Dru Smith believes that the Tigers can fix their poor shooting going forward, but that it’s going to take a lot of time in the gym. There were very few bright spots for Missouri tonight, as bench players like Jordan Wilmore, Parker Braun and Torrence Watson were able to see the floor early in the second half.
Turnovers, poor shooting and a tenacious defensive effort from Tennessee would be the back-breaker for Missouri tonight. The Tigers ultimately dropped this game 73-53, and picked up their first loss of the season.
Cuonzo Martin gave all the praise to the Volunteers tonight. “I give Tennessee credit,” Martin explained. “They played well on both sides of the basketball.” Despite the big loss, Martin stressed that he’s not worried about the season going forward. “Great thing about league play is the turn around is quick,” Martin said. Missouri will travel to Fayetteville on Saturday to play Arkansas.