There has been improvement in several categories for Missouri this season, the first one being a two game boost in conference wins from last season.
Missouri’s 69-50 win over Alabama secured conference win number seven, an improvement from five last year. The seven wins would also be good for the program’s second best finish in conference play since the 2014 season.
That’s for the season, but Saturday, Missouri saw a handful of struggling players rise up to the occasion.
There was a literal lid on the basket for Missouri from deep for quite some time. The team has struggled to shoot three pointers all season, and that is not breaking news by any means, but Saturday was borderline unbelievable. The Tigers were 0-12 at one point, and a game they should have been winning by double digits was tied instead.
Enter Mitchell Smith and Mark Smith. Mitchell nailed a much needed three for Missouri with 14:18 remaining, giving his team a 30-27 lead. When Jaden Shackleford responded for Alabama with a three of his own, Mitchell came back down and hit another long jumper, finally giving the crowd of 10,047 at Mizzou Arena a reason to get on their feet.
“We shoot threes,” he said. “We’re going to keep shooting. Once we finally hit our first one, guys started getting a little more confident. Once we finally get them going, we’re a good team. We’re a dangerous team.”
Mitchell Smith has played solid basketball to close SEC play, but it’s been hard to say the same about Javon Pickett the past few outings. The sophomore from Belleville, Illinois has had some major struggles, failing to score against both Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
Pickett found a way to score seven points Saturday, but a three point play in transition with 8:06 remaining may well have been the biggest play for Missouri all day. Pickett’s finish through contact and free throw opened up a seven point lead for the Tigers, who slowly began to pull away with the momentum in their favor.
A strong finish in the final home game of the season will surely feel good for Picket going into the crucial offseason before he begins his junior year.
And finally, enter Mark Smith. His greatest attribute on the basketball court has been as a long range bomber, and he has had major struggles in that department this year. His three point percentage dipped to 37% coming into Saturday, down from 45% from last year.
On Saturday, he struggled for much of the day, but exploded in the final minutes to seal a victory for Missouri. He buried three deep treys in the final two minutes, pushing Missouri’s lead to 20 points. Smith was noticeably excited by his breakout, and fed off the energy from the crowd.
Cuonzo Martin attributed some of the junior’s struggles to occasionally trying to do too much. “Sometimes he gets himself in trouble when he tries to do more,” he said. “His weapon is his shot. When he’s catching and shooting like that, he’s an elite shooter.”
Missouri is certainly better when elite shooting Mark Smith shows up.