As easy as true road wins get, that was it.
If you zoom out a bit, Missouri marched into Wichita State’s Koch Arena, raced to a double-digit lead early, and withstood a push from the undermanned Shockers. With a Dru Smith bucket at the 15:32 mark in the second half, the Tigers assured themselves the hosts would never get closer than the rest of the way. Broadly speaking, you can’t ask for more.
I’m sure as fans watched the game, particularly from the tip — if you were able to figure out that F1 racing pushed the start over to ESPN News — you saw Missouri take early control, then let it slip away a bit. Maybe you were more nervous they wilt completely. But even when the lead felt rickety, the sense of control always felt as if it rested with MU.
A 15-3 run out of the locker room restored breathing room, and the Shockers were never able to mount a second bid to overtake MU.
- Two-point shooting plus timely 3-point shot-making: If that's going to be the Tigers’ staple going forward, I’m all for it. I’d prefer they shoot a little better than 30 percent from deep, but that’s survivable when your defense holds an opponent to a 38.6 effective-field-goal percentage. WSU’s offensive numbers were ugly, and Mizzou deserves plenty of credit for that. They made things painful for the Shockers on that end of the floor.
- A very solid BCI after a bumpy first half: Seven first half turnovers and just four in the second. Admittedly, coach Cuonzo Martin will live with more turnovers as the pace the picks up, but ball security was markedly better after the break, robbing WSU of easy buckets and a tool to carve into MU’s lead.
- It’s a little surprising to see Mizzou sitting at 3-0 but 1-2 in rebounding battles: Dominating the boards is a staple of Martin’s training and career. So, it’s weird to see them losing skirmishes on the glass. In raw terms, MU finished plus-3. Expected rebounds are valuable because if a team is laying bricks, defensive boards are easier to corral, and it’s typically a hint that you’ll win the raw rebounding column. Please, guys, clean that up a bit.
That’s a quibble, though. MU went on the road and came out ahead in three of the Four Factors. They also held the Shockers below their expected rebound number, meaning they almost swept all four categories. It’s also a pretty reliable formula for winning on the road.
Your Trifecta: Mark Smith, Dru Smith, Kobe Brown
Mark was stellar. Dru was really good. We’re probably a little bit spoiled by those guys. When Mark Smith is a full strength, he’s a much more disruptive defensive presence than you expect. Anytime he wants to put together performance like he did Sunday is just fine. The senior was also the Tigers’ closer down the stretch. Let’s look at what he did with MU leading by 13 after the under-4 timeout:
- Draws a charge on Alterique Gilbert
- Makes a layup to push the lead back to 12 after the Shockers cut the lead to 10
- Goes 2 of 2 from the line after being fouled, pushing the lead to 14
- Hits a 3-pointer to answer a WSU bucket and gives the Tigers a 15-point lead
- Prompts this tweet:
After that, Mizzou coasted the rest of the way.
After a pedestrian outing against Oregon, Dru Smith was unbelievable. More on him in a bit, however, because I want to highlight Kobe Brown. Since Brown has been at Missouri, he hasn’t exactly scorched the nets from the outside, and his start to the season hasn’t been all the fast. But Brown exploited favorable matchups to drive the ball against the slower-footed Morris Udeze and used his strength against Trey Wade, finishing 4 of 7 from the floor and earning three trips to the line. Brown’s been steady on the defensive end and active on the glass, but what he did Sunday is a formula for making a dent offensively.
So let’s talk about this Dru Smith floor percentage, which was coupled with a ridiculously low 14-percent usage rate. In the past, struggles by Xavier Pinson, who went 1 for 13 and 0 of 7 from 3-point range, would have resulted in MU pumping its offense through Dru. But with Mark Smith and Kobe Brown offsetting Pinson, Dru was able to play with insane efficiency, finishing with a bonkers 63.0 floor percentage.
He finished with 14 points but missed just two shots. And he embodied more assured ball-handling with four assists, two steals and a lone turnover. Had the game been closer, MU could have put the ball in his hands more.
The officials allowed a fair bit of physicality and swallowed the whistles on plays around the rim. That’s not an environment that suits Pinson, who excels at beating his defender, drawing contact and going to the line. Instead, he found himself on the floor watching the action race the other way. (This is also ironic since Brown fouled out, and Tilmon was in foul trouble.)
Set aside the results of the last two games and look at how they’ve unfolded. Mizzou’s had stretches where they’ve dominated the run of play to build leads, and then used sturdy defense and rebounding to offset stretches where the offense bogs down (late first half against Oregon) or a star like Pinson struggles (Wichita State) to get victories that juice an NCAA tournament resume. On Sunday, they spent the the final 15 or so minutes operating comfortably and won by 10. Not a bad day at the office.
Up next... Subjugation University, Lubber-tay
They’re good. Ritchie McKay is a Tony Bennett disciple and plays in similar fashion. So expect a team who will play a pack-line defense and try to control pace. I want Mizzou to win by 100.