In the final game of the season, Cuonzo Martin and his Tigers did their best to introduce all the tropes of the entire season wrapped into a nicely wrapped 40 minute contest. Hosting Alabama, a dangerous offensive basketball team, Missouri locked down defensively in a way they haven’t in a WHILE. Remember the early parts of the season as Mizzou’s defense surged into the top 15 in defensive efficiency?
That seems like a long time ago. With a healthy roster, Martin rode Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith longer than he has in recent games and they were able to assist in restoring the defense to its rightful place.
Then, suddenly after 30 minutes of defensive struggles and offensive misfires, the ball started to drop for Mizzou’s jump shooters. In the first 30 minutes, Mizzou scored 34 points. They bested that total in the final 10 minutes, Before Dru Smith voluntarily turned the ball over to make sure Reed Nikko could get his curtain call, Mizzou had scored on 16 of its previous 17 possessions.
Sure, it helped being in the double bonus with more than seven minutes to play and nobody making jumpshots so the Tigers were hurling themselves towards the rim. But in that span, Mizzou averaged 2.05 points per possession, after averaging 0.772 over the first 44 possessions. That’s something of a turnaround mid-game.
- So the clear winner here is the defense: Alabama is still a top 40 offense, scoring an adjusted 1.11 points per possession and a raw 1.02 PPP and Mizzou just dropped a 0.76 on them. Which is by far their worst performance of the season. The defensive plan was a good one: Challenge shooters at the 3-point line, make them take contested shots at the rim. There were a few blown pick and roll coverages there, but in large part Missouri was able to make Alabama’s life miserable around the rim.
- With the defense looking good, Mizzou also put in big time work on the glass: As Cuonzo Martin’s teams are known for defense and rebounding a +5.6 in expected rebound margin is a good start. They were +15 overall, +10 on the defensive glass, +5 on the offensive glass and generating extra shots is what helped Missouri in the first 30 minutes as they struggled to make shots. Three offensive rebounds during their late run kept the streak alive as well.
- One of the biggest difference for me was the turnovers: Remember, Dru Smith gave a turnover up to get Nikko his curtain call, after 12 in the first half the Tigers calmed down and held onto the ball. The way they were rebounding, just getting shots up gave them a better chance... then the ball started going in.
Your Trifecta: Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith
On the season: Dru Smith 45 points, Mark Smith 25 points, Xavier Pinson 23 points, Kobe Brown 19 points, Javon Pickett 15 points, Jeremiah Tilmon 18 points, Mitchell Smith 16 points, Reed Nikko 13 points, Torrence Watson 8 points, Tray Jackson 3 points, Parker Braun 2 points, Axel Okongo 1 point
I think this is the first time we’ve had a #TeamSmith trifecta... and, checks notes... it’s not. It’s the second time. Mizzou’s first game against A&M was horrible but also featured a game with a Smiths trifecta. Still it’s really cool. Especially for Mitchell Smith. Mitch has been hot and cold offensively and he doesn’t take a lot of shots, but he’s been so good on the glass and defensively. It was good to see him making big shots.
I was also happy to see Dru Smith have the kind of game that he did after talking about the wear and tear he’s likely endured over the last few months. Smith has been far and away the MVP of the team this season and the last game of the regular season he proved why. 10 FTA, 8 assists, 2 steals in 37 minutes.
A lot of the numbers here aren’t going to wow anyone, but that’s what happens when you have 30 minutes of unproductive offense.
I’ll point casually to Jeremiah Tilmon. Tilmon was a monster on the glass with five offensive rebounds, a low usage of just 16%, a solid floor 40%, Tilmon hasn’t been perfect since returning, but he’s averaging 3.6 fouls per 40. He’s staying on the floor and impacting the game defensively, plus giving the Tigers an additional guy in the paint they can go to.
All in all it was good finish to an otherwise dreadful game.
But that’s kind of how this season’s been. A rough and painful start largely held together by duct tape and then a late offensive improvement to give everyone a bout of hope.
Heading into the SEC tournament, the good news is Missouri is finding more ways to be competitive and they get to avoid playing on Wednesday night in the tournament... for a change. Thanks to Mississippi State beating Ole Miss, Texas A&M beating Arkansas, and Missouri’s win over Alabama, the Tigers and Razorbacks tied for 10th place in conference. The tie breaker (since head to head they were tied) ended up with Mizzou’s win over Auburn, who landed in second place behind Kentucky.
Not playing on Wednesday doesn’t give them a full leg up, because they play against the Texas A&M Aggies who gets the first night off as well. We’ll preview the game, but as you know Missouri has already lost twice to the Aggies who are playing pretty good basketball lately. Weird.
Here are the rest of the results from yesterday’s SEC action:
- Kentucky 71, Florida 70
- Auburn 85, Tennessee 63
- LSU 94, Georgia 64
- Mississippi State 69, Ole Miss 44
- Vanderbilt 83, South Carolina 74
- Texas A&M 77, Arkansas 69
And the FINAL standings:
- Kentucky 15-3
- Auburn 12-6
- LSU 12-6
- Mississippi State 11-7
- Florida 11-7
- South Carolina 10-8
- Texas A&M 10-8
- Tennessee 9-9
- Alabama 8-10
- Missouri 7-11
- Arkansas 7-11
- Ole Miss 6-12
- Georgia 5-13
- Vanderbilt 3-15