Cuonzo Martin was faced with a bit of a dilemma coming into Saturday’s matchup with a lowly Texas A&M squad, as star center Jeremiah Tilmon was scratched due to an emergency wisdom teeth surgery.
But it’s not like the Missouri head coach hasn’t had to deal with injuries to important players before.
Just this season, Martin had NBA prospect and by far the team’s best player in Jontay Porter go down for the year with a knee injury. As if that wasn’t enough, an emerging stud and the team’s second leading scorer, sophomore Mark Smith, injured his ankle and hasn’t suited up for the past five games.
So in retrospect, this really wasn’t something to stress out on too much.
Martin opted for a different-looking lineup Saturday, replacing Tilmon with Reed Nikko and starting Torrence Watson over Xavier Pinson at shooting guard. Some fans questioned these moves, as Nikko isn’t a flashy player and Pinson woos the crowd with his shifty passes, but there’s a reason they’re in the stands and Martin is on the bench coaching.
Nikko got into a bit of foul trouble, notching three just around five minutes into the second half and fouling out with five minutes to go in the game. But when he was on the floor, he was as productive as it gets. The big-man from Minnesota that some call “Big ‘Sota” was all effort Saturday night.
One of the highlights of the game came just under five minutes into the first half. Nikko caught a pass down on the left block, back to the basket. He turned around over his right shoulder and shredded the twine with a silky-smooth jumper. His offensive skillset was on display Saturday, both as a scorer and a grinder. He cleaned up mistakes, grabbed offensive boards and gave the Tigers multiple extra possessions throughout.
Nikko ended the game with eight points, three rebounds (all offensive) and a pair of blocks blocks in just 19 minutes of action. His career-high in points came on Dec. 16, 2017 when he scored 12 points against North Florida. And while he didn’t get quite to that total, he tied his previous SEC career-high in points (8 against Mississippi on Feb. 25, 2017). If Nikko managed to foul a bit less, there’s no telling what he would have ended up with.
The other newly-inserted starter in Saturday’s contest in Watson continued to fill up the bucket as of late. The freshman sharpshooter had at least one made three-pointer in each of Missouri’s past three games and scored double-digit points in two of the past three, but had a rocky start to this one. After missing his first five attempts from beyond the arc, it felt like Watson was forcing it too much.
But back-to-back triples in the second half got him going again, and just like that he had 10 points and yet another double-digit scoring game — his third in four games and fifth of the season. Watson ended the game with 12 points.
Another freshman in Javon Pickett continued to impress this season, racking up an efficient 15 points on just nine shots, including a trio of long-balls. His development into one of the better all-around offensive players for the Tigers has been exciting to watch.
And while I’m trying to focus on positives here for Missouri, I can’t not mention how abysmal their offense was in the second half. They were outscored 47-29 by a team that shot 37.5 percent in the first half and couldn’t get anything going. Twenty-nine points in a half against a team that’s five games below .500 and only has one win in conference is just simply not going to cut it.
I understand Martin was out two of the team’s three top scorers in Smith and Tilmon, but he has to be able to adjust mid-game and come up with a different scheme if the offense isn’t putting up points. Time and time again it seems he’s ineffective at doing so, which could be real concerning for Missouri. Now, I’m not saying Martin is a bad coach by any means — I think he’s excellent. It’s just his offensive mindset and in-game adjustments seem to lack at times, and in Saturday’s embarrassing loss, it showed.
The Tigers will stay at home for their next contest against Arkansas at 8 p.m. Tuesday.