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Mizzou-UCF Postgame: Pickett and Pinson provide needed boost

The freshmen guards provided a spark offensively for the Tigers, showing off quickness and hustle.

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Freshman Missouri point guard Xavier Pinson spun left to free himself up from a defender at the three-point arc, drove inside, ball-faked left and put up a silky-smooth finger roll. A questionable charging call was enforced on the play, but it very well could have been the most athletic play by a Missouri player in Sunday’s 64-62 victory over Central Florida.

Pinson played just seven minutes against the Golden Knights, but made his presence felt in a big way in his time on the court.

Missouri fans have known for some time now that Pinson’s game relies heavily on his quickness and innate court vision. But what they may not have known until Sunday’s contest was his ability to shoot the long-ball.

The point guard from Chicago went two-for-three from beyond the arc and was all over the place throughout, snagging four boards.

Missouri’s lone freshman starter, guard Javon Pickett, channeled that same kind of energy in what was by far his most impressive performance of the year thus far. He filled up the stat sheet, scoring a career-high 13 points. He also added four rebounds and three assists to his total. Head coach Cuonzo Martin was pleased with Pickett’s offensive production, but was more impressed with how he handled himself defensively.

“Javon’s not afraid out there. Javon’s gonna compete,” Martin said. “I thought he did a great job. [Central Florida guard] Aubrey [Dawkins] made some big shots, but the growth of a freshman basketball player to be able to help and recover, to close out on a guy... That’s growth for a young guy.”

While Pickett has taken on more of a defensive role in most of Missouri’s games, as he’s viewed by many as the Tigers’ fifth scoring option, he took it upon himself to energize what was a very lackluster offense to end the first half — Missouri didn’t sink a bucket for over nine minutes until a Mitchell Smith tip-in with three seconds remaining.

After the half, the Tigers fed off Pickett’s energy to get the offense going in a hurry, as the freshman hustled on both ends of the court and sank some big-time shots.

“You’ve gotta credit a freshman like that to come in and keep playing like that, I give a lot of credit to him,” Missouri point guard Jordan Geist said. “When [shots] aren’t falling, being able to attack the basket like Javon did and get some layups [helps get the team going.]”

Pickett did, however, make a couple freshman mistakes late in the game. If it weren’t for Geist’s heroics and a Missouri victory, Pickett’s five-second violation as regulation winded down and a missed free throw that would have iced the game in overtime would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Compliments would turn into criticism for the first-year player with more maturity than most freshmen.

He proved his level-headedness in overtime, as he left his crucial five-second violation behind him. Pickett drew a charge directly following two made Jeremiah Tilmon free throws, leading to yet another Jordan Geist three-pointer early in overtime to help the Tigers jump out to an early lead. It’s little plays like that which show Pickett’s mental fortitude — something many freshmen don’t quite have yet.

Martin got a couple of good ones in Pinson and Pickett, as they look like they’re going to age like a fine wine.