Discrepancy in shooting ability clear for Missouri in blowout loss to Tennessee

The Tigers went three for 16 from beyond the arc on Wednesday night.

he second half of No. 12 Missouri’s blowout loss to No. 7 Tennessee began much like the first one: Volunteers guard Santiago Vescovi drilled a three.

Seeing Vescovi come out of the gate like that, as well as seeing Tennessee shoot five for seven from long range, had to be tough for Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin. His team just isn’t capable of doing that, at least right now, and it showed Wednesday night.

“You have to take clean shots,” Martin said. “You have to shoot with confidence. I think we’re taking jabs and hesitating on shots, so those become tough three-point shots.”

Missouri entered the game at No. 12 in the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage, clocking in at just over 28 percent with the long ball. The Tigers certainly didn’t help their numbers against the undefeated Vols, making only three of their 16 attempts.

This wasn’t a one-off, either — Missouri struggled in its previous game against Bradley, going three for 21, despite a close victory.

“I think we can get it fixed,” guard Dru Smith said. “I think we’re just gonna have to stay in the gym, just keep getting shots up and making sure that we’re ready to shoot out there.”

Tennessee’s defensive was clear: pick up the ball-handler at half-court, hedge screens like crazy, collapse on any attempt to drive inside, and if the Tigers do make it to the basket and want to kick it out for a wide-open shot, let them.

It worked. Pressure on Missouri’s guards led to 21 turnovers, including five by Dru Smith. When they were able to get past their man defender and reach the bucket, Smith and Xavier Pinson were usually met by two or three Volunteer defenders including one Yves Pons, who was generally ready to swat everything in his general vicinity.

“Tonight, I think we were just a little bit too stagnant,” guard Drew Buggs said. “When you’re stagnant against a good defensive team like Tennessee, you’re gonna be in for a long night.”

That plan only works if Tennessee is confident that Missouri either won’t be able to kick it out to open shooters or that the shooters won’t make their shots. The Tigers did get their shooters multiple opportunities, but they just couldn’t take advantage.

Tennessee played strong help defense because other than Mark Smith, who didn’t attempt a three in Wednesday’s game, no Missouri player with consistent minutes is shooting over 40 percent from three.

Dru Smith (33 percent) is the only one remotely close, but after him, the numbers get ugly.

“You have to drive the ball,” Martin said. “You don’t have to settle for three-point shots. I think sometimes the comfort is, ‘I could settle for a shot as opposed to driving and making the next play. And again, in this particular game … I think their defense had a lot to do with it.”

On the other hand, because they didn’t pose a threat from outside, Tennessee shut down the Tigers in the paint.

“We can’t get stagnant,” Dru Smith said. “We can’t get caught ball-watching. Even if somebody is kind of making a one-on-one play, there still has to be movement on the backside.”

Missouri shot 36 percent from the field, a far cry from its 44 percent mark on the season and certainly well behind the Vols’ 50 percent.

Especially in the early going, Tennessee hit everything. It made its first seven shots from the field.

“I think we gave up some comfortable shots, and I think they made some tough ones, and we could never get over that hump,” Martin said.

It didn’t get much better defensively for the Tigers. Vescovi went five for seven, Pons went five for nine, and guard Victor Bailey Jr. went four for six. Once the Vols dipped into their bench, it didn’t get better for the Tigers, as they then had to deal with freshmen Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, who went a combined seven for 13.

“Credit to them,” Buggs said. “They hit some tough shots coming out of the gate. We played some good defense, they just hit some tough shots. That’s how it goes in league play; The margin for error is small. Every game is important, every possession is important so we just gotta bounce back.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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