Double trouble: Tilmon and Pinson score season-highs to spark Missouri men’s basketball win over Arkansas

The Tigers won their first SEC game on Saturday with 20-point outings from Jeremiah Tilmon and Xavier Pinson.

Missouri men’s basketball found the formula for success against top Southeastern Conference teams on Saturday morning: pound the paint and defend the basket like it’s a member of their family.

The Tigers executed their game plan to perfection with the connection between junior guard Xavier Pinson and senior forward Jeremiah Tilmon. The former produced 23 points, four assists and five rebounds while the latter earned his second double-double of the season with a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 12 Missouri to its first conference win of the season in an 81-68 victory over undefeated Arkansas.

“Off the top of my head, I would say it’s [Tilmon’s] best game in my opinion and that it was one of X’s best games,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You have a great game for both of those guys, just from the standpoint that the lob pass that X was throwing to Tilly.”

Tilmon and Pinson displayed their dual dominance on the first possession of the game. After Tilmon won the opening tip, Pinson drove towards the basket, looked up and found his big man trailing to the basket for an alley-oop slam.

This would be the first of many connections between Missouri’s guards and the East St. Louis, Illinois product, which opened up the floor for his teammates.

“If I get the lob Tilly a lot and consistently every day, I feel like that opened up a lot for everybody,” Pinson said. “It opened up skip passes, opened up the behind pass and opened up the corner three.”

Early in the season, Missouri’s guards would try to get the ball into the low block off an entry pass Tilmon, where defenses collapsed around the 6-foot-10 big man. When Tilmon got the ball off passes up high where he could catch and put the ball in the basket, he didn’t have to worry about how to maneuver through three players underneath the basket.

From Missouri’s incessant turnovers to Arkansas’ inability to make shots, the first four minutes revealed the offensive struggles each team faced throughout the contest.

Missouri opened Saturday’s proceedings with eight turnovers in the opening 10 minutes (some of which were due to a flat ball that was replaced) and finished with a season-high 21 giveaways. The Tigers turned the ball over on 26.6% of their possessions.

Martin’s squad has been hot and cold with turnovers in its first eight games. Some games there are fewer than 10 turnovers while the last two games featured more than 20. It’s something that draws the ire of Martin, who said he has to accept his team’s weaknesses.

“This is what we look like and again whether it shows going or not we, and I guess I got to get accustomed to turnovers,” Martin said. “I’m gonna name one my grandkids Turnover, but God it's a lot.”

At least the Tigers could put the ball in the basket, which is more than Arkansas could say.

The Hogs struggled to make baskets, who opened the game shooting 2-9 in the first four minutes and maintained their shooting struggles for the remaining 36.

Arkansas starred freshman showstopper Moses Moody and a supporting cast that played three more double-digit scorers, but none of them could catch fire as they turned in its lowest scoring performance through 10 games.

“Our DNA is defense,” Martin said. “We score 40,50,60, 70, you still have to defend, rebound and play hard. Their strength is playing one-on-one, getting downhill and making plays, and they just had the grit to go one-on-one and force them to make a play.”

Tilmon led the charge in rebounds, and the rest of the Tigers outrebounded the Razorbacks by 16. All nine players who clocked in for Missouri crashed the glass and grabbed at least two rebounds.

As the Tigers found their offensive groove, the defense made stops and prevented second-chance opportunities on the other end.

“The first two buckets helped me,” Tilmon said. “I was always locked in, but like getting the first point and those free throws, I felt the free throws helped me stay locked in.”

Both teams finished the first half looking for answers to their shooting troubles as the Tigers and Hogs combined to make two of the final 18 shots in the final six minutes. Tilmon, Pinson and sophomore forward Kobe Brown combined to score all but five of Missouri’s first half points. Mark Smith and Dru Smith appeared nonexistent on the offensive end, where they are usually two of the team’s biggest contributors.

The Tigers shook off a middling first half performance, while Arkansas continued one of the worst home shooting performances since moving into Bud Walton Arena.

To combat its first-half turnovers, Missouri slowed down into a half-court tempo for most of the half unless there was an opportunity to run. While the second half was not nearly as sloppy, Missouri still turned the ball over on nine occasions but this time the Tigers matched that number with nine assists, three of which came from Pinson.

Several players worked their way into foul trouble early in the second half, but the interior defense never panicked and forced Arkansas to shoot a woeful 8-30 on its layup attempts.

“One man goes down, the next man has to come in and do their job,” Pinson said. “Anybody who was off the bench, they just got to be ready and give us everything they got so we can get the win.”

Tilmon continued his dominance in the second half. He slipped behind the Razorback defense on pick-and-rolls or positioned himself behind the defense to get open looks around the rim.

“I just feel like the game was just coming to me today,” Tilmon said. “It wasn't nothing specifically that I was trying to do besides going after the rebounds, but as far as offense, I feel like the game was just coming to me.”

Pinson, the man who set up many of Tilmon’s thunderous dunks, nearly matched Tilmon’s production in a less flashy way than two-handed flushes. 12 of his 23 points from the charity stripe, an area where the Tigers have excelled with their current roster core.

Arkansas finished the game well short of its season averages in points per game (90.8, eighth-best in the nation) and field goal percentage (47.1%). When shots didn’t fall inside the paint, they couldn’t rely on perimeter shooting to get the job done as the Hogs led for only 14 seconds.

Arkansas made an effort to comeback with an 8-0 run after the referees ejected head coach Eric Musselman, but a corner three from Mark Smith quelled the charging Hogs.

The vital win over Arkansas keeps Missouri in the discussion of SEC contenders after the catastrophic performance against No. 7 Tennessee on Wednesday. The Tigers realized success does not mean conforming to the new standard of constant 3-point shooting. It means playing old-school basketball inside the arc and finding new ways to unlock an offense.

“We couldn't complain about what happened last week or last game,” Pinson said. “We just had to do our best to get right back in the gym and work hard and we could come back even better than we were.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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