Today, the Missouri Tigers traveled down south to College Station where they faced off against Texas A&M, an old Big 12 foe. The Aggies came into this game following a gritty one-point victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who recently upset Missouri. Missouri needed this win to solidify their spot amongst the top teams of the SEC, and they did nothing but prove their worthiness this afternoon.
The Tigers and Aggies both came out of the gates a bit sloppy. Leads were exchanged multiple times in the opening minutes, as both teams struggled maintaining possession, turning the ball over a combined seven times through the first eight minutes. Missouri had a gaudy ten first half turnovers, a stat that Cuonzo Martin had previously mentioned needs to be fixed.
Following the first TV timeout, Martin elected to substitute an entire new lineup into the game, likely due to the fact that there was no play stoppage earlier to allow for subs. Still, it was a first for the team this season. Players like Torrence Watson and Parker Braun saw the hardwood early in the game, but ultimately wrestled to produce anything major.
Texas A&M did a good job halting Missouri from sustaining any offensive flow early in the first half — the Tigers were scoreless for over four minutes — and the Aggies were propelled by a 7-0 run to take the lead. The Tigers, however, managed to hang around thanks to some relentless rebounding and the early incorporation of Jeremiah Tilmon into the offense. At the half, Tilmon led all Tiger scorers with 8 points, in addition to 4 boards. Tilmon said in the postgame that the last game versus Mississippi State didn’t go as planned, and that the message before today’s game was to capitalize on every opportunity possible. And capitalize they ended up doing.
Mark Smith’s shooting struggles continued to haunt him as he was unable to put up a single point in the first half. His absence from beyond the three-point line has been disappointing for the Tigers over the past month, putting more stress on others to contribute. “We need Mark to shoot the ball,” Coach Martin explained. “He’s a different player when his shots are falling.” Despite Smith’s poor shooting, Missouri ended the half on an impressive 10-0 run to retake the lead. Javon Pickett stepped up during the half’s closing minutes, putting a quick five points on the stat sheet. While the Tigers went into the half leading 27-24, they had more fouls and more turnovers than the Aggies through the first twenty minutes, so that was something they’d need to correct after halftime.
The grudge match continued into the second half, but Missouri remained the aggressor early, and held onto their lead going into the first TV timeout. Mark Smith opened the second half with three consecutive misses from beyond the arc, putting him at 0-5 from deep. It’s tough to speculate why he’s gone cold from deep, especially since he continuously got open looks and had the green light to shoot.
Jeremiah Tilmon continued to be the difference maker for Missouri in the second half. His presence down low was seemingly too much for the Aggies to handle and the Tigers opened up a double digit lead following a three from Kobe Brown. “This was Kobe’s best game in a Tiger uniform in my opinion,” Coach Martin said in the postgame. Pickett also kept the hot hand for the Tigers, scoring 7 of their first 16 points in the second half. Pickett doesn’t often put up double digits, but when he does, Missouri is 11-1. “We didn’t get too high or too low,” Pickett explained after the game. “We know that basketball is a game of runs.”
Missouri’s defense thrived in the second, forcing five turnovers in the early minutes. The Tigers managed to extend their lead to 13 points going into the second TV timeout, following a Torrence Watson bounce-pass to Mitchell Smith, who threw down a dunk and was awarded free throws after a flagrant foul on A&M.
Missouri looked as though they were going to run away with this one, pushing their lead to 18 points at one point, however the Aggies refused to go down without a fight, swiftly cutting the Tiger lead back to just 10 points. Andre Gordon led all Aggies with 19 points, but his efforts weren’t enough for Texas A&M to crawl back into the game.
With the game at a potential turning point, Kobe Brown stepped up for Missouri, keeping the Aggies in check defensively. Then Mark Smith finally hit from deep, and that was followed by a steal and score from Dru Smith, giving the Tigers a 15 point cushion with under four to play. This ultimately served as the nail in the coffin.
After putting up 27 points in the first half, the Tigers put up a superb 41 points in the second, and Missouri went on to win 68-52, holding the Aggies to their lowest point total all year. The Tigers finished with 9 players on the score sheet, including three players in double digits— a true balanced offensive attack.