Efficient shooting spurs Missouri men’s basketball to home win against South Carolina

Missouri improved to 3-2 in conference play behind a resurgent Mark Smith and another dominant Jeremiah Tilmon performance.

After slipping down the rankings for three-consecutive weeks, Missouri men’s basketball played its first home game in 20 days with the same poise they used to ascend in the polls to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks 81-70.

Much like the games that brought Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin’s squad to national prominence in December, the Tigers opened up Tuesday’s contest with a red-hot start and a surprising shooting stroke from beyond the arc.

Missouri began the proceedings auspiciously. Junior guard Xavier Pinson drew a charge on the first possession, immediately followed by senior forward Jeremiah Tilmon stuffing his opponent on the next possession.

The defensive spark set the Tigers' offense on fire with fast-break opportunities galore in the first half. In the first three minutes alone, Missouri built a lead that they never relinquished on a game-opening 10-0 run that forced South Carolina coach Frank Martin to burn a timeout.

Cuonzo Martin said the fast-paced play is something that he wishes he coached earlier in his tenure, but in his fourth year, it’s all come together for games like these.

“When I go back and watch film of when we played last year's opponents to just kind of see if you can catch something, we play so slow,” Cuonzo Martin said. “Why would I coach that? You want to get up and down and play, you want to have some excitement, and the key is you have to continue to grow in that role and how you play that way.”

The Tigers got the ball into Tilmon at a higher frequency than usual, which allowed him to post a team-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds for his third double-double in four games.

After two seasons riddled by foul trouble and one riddled by injury, Tilmon’s final season in Columbia is far and away his best one yet. It’s what the Tigers anticipated when he signed out of La Lumiere School in 2017.

“Jeremiah did a great job posting up, keeping balls alive, rebounding and making the next play,” Cuonzo Martin said.

The Tigers capitalized from great playmaking on both ends of the court with assists on 16-of-their-28 made field goals and 23 points off turnovers.

With the team’s most assists since its second game of the season, Missouri gave its perimeter threats catch-and-shoot looks early and often, which contributed to the hottest 3-point shooting performance since opening night.

“One more passing is something we do often and we all trust each other can make the shot,” Tilmon said. “It just comes second nature especially if you call it during the game. Everybody’s unselfish so we'll make the next pass.”

Senior guard Mark Smith benefitted the most from the improved ball movement. Smith’s shooting percentage has dipped since conference play began and Tuesday and the guard returned to his non-conference form. He dropped 18 points, his highest total since Dec. 9.

After the game against Texas A&M where Smith finished 1-7 from 3, Martin said if a player has an open shot, the ball needs to go up. Smith has gone over a month since shooting at least 50% from 3-point land, and his coach’s blessing to continue shooting is a confidence booster amidst the slump.

“I think Coach has just seen all the workout and put in over the years I've been here so he knows I'm confident,” Smith said. “I'm gonna keep shooting them if they're all bad whether they're falling or not. He says my teammates are counting on me to knock those open ones down.

The closest South Carolina came to the lead was a five-point deficit with 8:56 remaining in the first half off a quick 7-0 run, but the Tigers rebuilt a formidable lead with a 61.3% shooting clip in the first half then kept the Gamecocks at a double-digit margin the entire second half.

South Carolina had plenty of opportunities to make a game of it in the second half and snagged 12 offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes, but their shooting was not efficient enough to hang with Missouri, even though the Tigers shot 22 fewer shots than the Gamecocks.

Mark Smith cooled off after the first half, but the scoring continued to pour in with reliable veterans Tilmon and redshirt senior guard Dru Smith scoring more than half of the team’s 36 points in the second half.

The Tigers surpassed the .500 mark in Southeastern Conference play after five games. With another shot at Tennessee—the team who defeated them by 20 points at home less than a month ago—Missouri will need a similarly excellent performance if they hope to leave Thompson Boling Arena with a win this Saturday night

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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