Three Tigers scored in double figures against Illinois.
They were Sean East II (18), Trent Pierce (12) and Tamar Bates (10).
It was East’s 10th game with 10+ points. It was Pierce’s first, and Bates’ fourth.
The 97-73 loss to the Illini was one of rougher offensive performances from Mizzou this season. The team recorded only six assists, shot 39.2% from the floor and 22.2% from behind the arc. There were a myriad of defensive issues as well, but poor shot quality led to a plethora of favorable opportunities for Illinois, especially early in the game.
“We’re not going to ever win a game shooting five free throws and 1-for-17 from 3-point range in the first half,” Gates said following the defeat.
When an offense is just plain out of rhythm, a team looks to its reliable weapons to create on their own.
Last season, when the Tigers were cold from the field, a strong performance from Kobe Brown, D’Moi Hodge or even DeAndre Gholston could keep them in the game.
This season, Sean East II has established himself as that kind of player. He averaged 17.1 points per game coming into the game on Friday night and was key in the wins over Pitt and Wichita State.
He didn’t have his best performance against Illinois, shooting 2-for-6 from behind the arc, but he was still creating quality looks and showing fight on both ends of the floor. He also leads the nation in 3-point percentage at 19/34 (55.8%), picking and choosing when to launch from deep while continuing to rely upon his ability to expertly get to the rim.
But, through 12 games of the season, does Dennis Gates have another player that he can rely upon to give him consistent scoring?
Going into the season, most thought that either Nick Honor or Noah Carter would fill that role. The two returners were now experienced in the SEC and had displayed the capability of lighting it up from the floor during the 2022-23 campaign.
Each of them have had their moments this season. Honor poured in 17 against Kansas, 15 against Wichita State and certainly started the comeback against Minnesota with that 10-point solo run. Carter scored in double-figures in six of the first seven games of the season.
But, they’ve also had rough outings. Honor scored zero against Pitt, eight against Memphis and is notably shooting 37% around the rim this season (entering Friday’s game). Carter hasn’t scored in double-figures since Nov. 28 and is shooting 2-for-18 from behind the arc in his past four outings.
Tamar Bates has had his own moments, scoring 12 points in the win over Pitt and 22 in the loss to Seton Hall. His performance against Illinois was solid, and he now appears to be earning true starters’ minutes, having played 25+ in the past three outings. But, in some games he doesn’t appear to be overly involved in the offense.
I would be remiss to not mention that Anthony Robinson II has certainly had his flashes of offensive potential. And, when Caleb Grill is healthy, he has been able to provide an offensive spark.
But, in the end, this team just does not appear to have the amount of night-to-night scorers that are required to win at this level. There is certainly a great chance that someone like Honor, Carter or Bates can step up to assist East at some point during SEC play, or perhaps Grill will come back and pick up right where he left off before suffering his wrist injury. The freshmen are all capable as well.
In the end, East has played at a high level throughout this season, but he is headline of the opposing scouting report. After that, it has generally been a roll of the dice when it comes to who shows up offensively on any given night.
“We haven’t played a great game this whole season, one where you have all of your parts clicking,” Gates said. “One of our best players, Noah Carter, missed some bunnies. And, some of the 3-point shots that were taken and missed, I’ll still always tell those people to take those shots.”
This team still has the potential to be a dangerous team in the SEC. But there’s a lot of work to be done to become one.