Have a day, Jeremiah Tilmon.
Missouri’s sophomore big-man had by far the best game of 2018 and arguably the best of his career in Tuesday’s 71-56 blowout victory over Xavier.
Tilmon scored a career-high 23 points on an efficient 10-for-15 shooting — and as if that wasn’t enough, he snagged 10 rebounds on top of that for his third double-double of the season. Tilmon started off by using his elite strength down low to body-up the Musketeers’ post players. And when Xavier tried to counter that by playing more physically, Tilmon showed he’s more than just some big body.
Whether it was a shot fake followed by an up-and-under lay-in; or a back-to-the-basket, strong, yet quick spin move to set him free, Tilmon displayed an array of skillful post moves in order to get easy point-blank buckets.
Not only did he dominate on the offensive end, but also on the defensive side of things as well. Typically when talking about Tilmon’s impact defensively, people bring up his game-breaking, Dikembe Mutombo-esque rejections. But Tuesday, the big-man’s hands looked like that of a guard’s, notching a pair steals on the night.
Midway through the first half, Tilmon swiped a ball and ran the floor, leading to a nice transition layup. That same level of effort was evident on the very next possession as well when a missed Missouri jumper clanked hard right off the rim. Tilmon leaped out of bounds and in mid-air, turned around and passed it out to Kevin Puryear. He quickly found Mark Smith in the right corner, who scorched the net with a three-pointer to cap off a 17-0 run by the Tigers.
It was those kinds of efforts Tilmon and the rest of Cuonzo Martin’s team made throughout that led to Missouri’s 15-point victory.
Even up 19 points with just over 13 minutes left in the second half, Jordan Geist laid out for a loose ball to ensure another Tigers possession. Missouri’s tenacity wasn’t anything new, but its offense looked drastically different than a month ago.
Even in the Tigers’ win over Central Florida 16 days prior, Martin’s offense was tough to watch. So much isolation basketball and little-to-no off-ball movement led to some inefficient basketball that was bailed out consistently by three-pointers from Smith and Jordan Geist.
And sure, that’ll work against the past two teams Missouri faced in UT-Arlington and Oral Roberts — but Xavier isn’t quite at the same level as those two. The Musketeers have made the NCAA Tournament five years running, even earning a No. 1 regional seed in last year’s tournament.
While they did lose a couple key players, that didn’t mean Tuesday’s matchup with Xavier would be treated any differently. In fact, a good majority of bettors took the Musketeers, moving the line from Xavier being 1.5-point underdogs to 2.5-point favorites at tip-off. And who can blame them? They hung in there tight with a seventh-ranked Auburn team earlier this year.
When you’re playing a program as consistently solid as the Musketeers, though, passing the ball around, moving without the ball and playing tough-nosed defense are vital to taking home the W.
Missouri did just that.
The Tigers racked up 12 assists on 26 field goals (46.2 percent of field goals made), shot 44.8 percent from the field and held Xavier to just 38.8 percent shooting. If Tuesday’s dismantling of the Musketeers is any indication of what to expect from Missouri here on out, the future looks pretty bright in Columbia.
Missouri will take on Illinois Saturday, Dec. 22 in the teams’ annual Braggin’ Rights game. It will take place at 7 p.m. at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.