Missouri came in to today’s matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks with one goal in mind — win. The Tigers haven’t looked like themselves the last few games, but today’s contest was reminder that Missouri is capable of controlling all facets of a basketball game.
Missouri got off to an accelerated start to begin play this afternoon, as Kobe Brown kept his hot hand offensively, putting up 7 of the first 13 points for the Tigers. Brown had a total of 12 points in the first half, which led all scorers. “I think Kobe gives us a huge lift,” Dru Smith said in the post-game. “He’s always looking to get to the basket and get fouled.” Additionally, Missouri saw the return of their big man, Jeremiah Tilmon, though he remained out of the starting lineup. Tilmon was absent the last two games, following the death of his grandmother. “Sometimes a week off is a good thing,” coach Martin explained. “He had a chance to be with his family and gather his thoughts.”
After a strong start offensively, the Tigers cooled off a bit heading into the second media timeout. Despite leading the Gamecocks 20-17, Missouri came out of that break on a mission, as they outscored the Gamecocks 25 to 12 the remainder of the half. Missouri’s outside shooting was the difference maker through one half of play. Mark Smith found his stride a bit, nailing a couple deep balls early. “It’s huge to have Mark contributing,” Dru Smith noted. “He looks like he’s back to being confident. He’s always going to give you energy, he’s always going to give you effort.” As a team, Missouri shot 6-13 from beyond the arc through the first twenty minutes.
Dru Smith had a productive half as well, putting up 5 assists to go along with 8 points, which helped keep the Tigers out in front through the remainder of the first half.
Defensively, Missouri put up a stellar first half performance, holding the Gamecocks to 29 points, on 28% shooting from the field, including a four an a half minute scoring drought. “We got back to our DNA, playing defense and guarding,” Mark Smith said in the post-game. South Carolina’s leading scorer this year, AJ Lawson, was held to 8 points through one half of play on 3/10 shooting including two airballs.
Going in to the break, Missouri had a comfortable 16 point lead, and little changed in the second.
The Tigers continued to lead early through the second half, though the Gamecocks came out the gates shooting the ball exceedingly well—they cut Missouri’s lead down to ten points by the first media break. AJ Lawson strung together a nice couple of possessions for South Carolina, as Missouri’s lead continued to shrink. Missouri only tuned the ball over 4 times the entire first half, but had 3 through the first four minutes of the second.
Additionally, Missouri’s Javon Pickett was sidelined with over twelve minutes to play after he tweaked something in his ankle. With Pickett on the bench, Missouri’s depth dwindled just a bit, though he’d inevitably return later.
Things were looking bleak for the Tigers around the halfway mark of the second half as the Gamecocks trimmed the deficit to just seven points on a Justin Minaya layup. The score forced Cuonzo Martin to burn a timeout. As play resumed, Missouri would go on an 18-6 run capped by a Torrence Watson 3-pointer to extend the lead to 20 points. “In the timeout, we all came together and said we got to nip this in the bud right now...we started rolling from there,” Mark Smith explained.
South Carolina put Missouri in the bonus early, and the Tigers took full advantage. Jeremiah Tilmon, who has struggled immensely as of late to make free throws, was a perfect 7-7 in today’s outing. “If he’s making free throws like that he’s extremely hard,” Martin mentioned in the post-game. Missouri shot a healthy 84% from the line as a team (16-19).
Missouri would extend its lead back up to seventeen points following a small dosage of Mark Smith offense— not something Tiger fans are typically used to hearing. Mark had a strong outing today, with 13 points on 5-8 shooting. “It could have been anybody,” Mark said.
Missouri’s offense hummed all afternoon, as the Tigers put up a regulation season high 93 points. A handful of Tigers saw themselves in the double digits. Missouri’s usual starting lineup of D. Smith, Pinson, Brown, M. Smith and Tilmon all recorded more than 12 points in today’s win.
Tilmon’s importance in Missouri’s lineup was highlighted on the stat sheet, as he literally didn’t miss a shot or free throw. Jeremiah took a seat with two minutes left to play after putting up 17 points on 5-5 shooting. “It’s definitely a good feeling having Jeremiah back,” Mark Smith said in the post-game. “We all know what he can do on the floor,” Dru Smith added, “The energy is lifted to have him back.”
In today’s post game press conference, Mark Smith alluded to the fact that there was a players only meeting before taking on the Gamecocks. After dropping three straight games, players felt as though a team meeting was necessary to vocalize their recent struggles. “Anything that’s going to help us, we want to get it out in the air,” Dru Smith said.
Missouri ultimately got back in the win column after demoralizing South Carolina 93-78, demonstrating that they’re not going anywhere just yet. Cuonzo Martin hit a milestone, too as he recorded his 250th win as a head coach. “I’m grateful...but I know there are more important things in life than winning some ball games.”
Missouri will look to keep things rolling as they seek out revenge against Ole Miss next week.