After four games it seemed Mark Smith was a potential all-SEC caliber player. To start the 2020-2021 campaign, Smith canned 13 three pointers in four starts, shooting a staggering 52% on 13-25 shooting from beyond the arc. He led Missouri in scoring in three matchups, averaging 17 points per game, earning himself two SEC Player of the Week honors. Then... it stopped. Coming into Missouri’s matchup against TCU , Smith had only sunk 9 threes over his last 9 games. The drop-off has been dramatic and it was time for a change.
Due to his shooting woes, Smith came off the bench for the TCU game. Missouri Head Coach Cuonzo Martin mentioned in the post game this was to take some pressure off of Mark. “The biggest thing for Mark is to relax and breathe,” Coach Martin explained. The switch didn’t immediately do much for Smith’s shooting efficiency, however, as he mustered a mere 5 points on 1-4 shooting, all from behind the three point line. Though his contributions were minor on the offensive end, Smith played hard on defense and did hit a crucial three down the stretch to help Missouri cut into TCU’s late second half lead. The move to the bench isn’t likely permanent, Martin said, and he hopes that Mark will eventually get back into the starting lineup. “He’ll be back out there soon,” Martin stated after the game.
In order for Missouri to be a real threat in the SEC and in the NCAA tournament, the Tigers will need more consistency from Smith. He carried the Tigers through the first four games of the season, but has gone mostly dormant since Missouri’s contest against Liberty in early December, averaging only 7.7 points per game. Thankfully, players like Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson, and Dru Smith have been there to to pick up the slack. The TCU game would have had a different result if not for them— they combined for 79 of Missouri’s 102 points.
Whether or not Smith can get back on track is entirely up to him. He’s got to get his confidence back and regain his shooting stroke, and it needs to happen fast. Missouri has a top 25 matchup against the Alabama Crimson Tide this weekend, who are undefeated in conference play. Missouri will need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to have a shot against the Tide, so it’s pivotal for Smith to have some consistency.
His teammates believe in him, even through the struggles, and know that he’s one of the best players on the court when he’s feeling it. After a good shooting performance against South Carolina in mid January, in which he put up 18 points, including 3-7 shooting from deep, Tilmon said in the post game, “You can’t leave Mark open… if he’s already hot, it’s lights out.”
The Missouri Tigers have nearly cemented their spot in March as the tournament is rapidly approaching. The Tigers head into February and look to close out on what’s been an impressive year. If the Tigers are going to challenge for a top 4 SEC finish to earn that coveted double-bye, and get a good NCAA Tournament seed, they will need the services of Mark Smith. Here’s hoping he can find his early-season form, and soon.