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Mitch Smith and Kobe Brown: The Hustle Bros

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What makes Kobe Brown and Mitchell Smith so essential to the success that Mizzou is having this year?

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson, and Dru Smith have grabbed a lot of the headlines for the Missouri Tigers this year, and rightly so. Most nights, one of those guys is leading the team in scoring and probably making big shot after big shot. But what if two other players who don’t find their names in the headlines too often are just as responsible for the Tigers’ first top-10 ranking in almost a decade?

Those two players are Mitchell Smith and Kobe Brown.

Neither is going to pop off the stat sheet. If one scores in double-figures, that’s a huge scoring output from them, but what these two contribute to the this Mizzou team is winning plays.

“Mitchell Smith is like the credit card, you never leave home without him,” said Cuonzo Martin after non-conference victory over Liberty early in the season (and again after the team’s victory over Alabama) and you can see why.

In each of the Tigers' last two games, Smith has made the game-winning play. Against Kentucky, he grabbed multiple important rebounds that sealed the victory in the final minute after struggling to shoot the ball the entire game. Against Alabama, he helped thwart a blistering comeback with a huge block on a shot that could’ve given Alabama the lead with next to no time left on the clock. It seems like Smith lives for those moments.

Likewise, Smith’s partner in crime is Kobe Brown. It seems like every game one of them saves a ball from going out of bounds or dives on the hardwood to chase a loose ball. Brown does average a couple more PPG than Smith, but he knows to be the best version of himself for the 2021 Tigers, he doesn’t need to fill up the boxscore.

In a press conference prior to the Auburn game, Brown said, “I’m not really looking for a lot of accolades. As long as we are winning and continue winning, that’s what I want.” The coaches have noticed, too.

“He (Kobe) is finding different ways to impact the game,” Mizzou assistant Chris Hollender said. “His effort to do things without the basketball, specifically on energy and effort plays... He’s impacting the game in different ways and embracing being a big physical presence for us.”

While it is likely that he will have to step into a larger role on next year’s team, Brown knows his role right now is about doing the little things, “I just look to do whatever the team needs from me to win,” he said.

If the Tigers do keep winning, fans can be assured that Smith and Brown will keep making plays. Perhaps this year, Smith or Brown might even make a game-winning play in March that can continue this magical run.