Mark Smith halts cold streak in much-needed outburst

The Tigers will need last night’s version of Mark Smith as they enter the most difficult stretch of their season.

Missouri guard Mark Smith had a problem: his main job is to score, and for well over a month now, he hadn’t been doing that.

That changed on Tuesday night. Smith piled up more points, field goals and three-pointers than he’d had in any game since Dec. 9, propelling the Tigers to an easy win over South Carolina and giving them hope that maybe, just maybe, Ocean Gang might be back.

“There was nothing really different tonight,” Smith said. “I knew eventually they would start falling, but I didn’t know what game it would be.”

Smith’s outburst began early, during Missouri’s 10-0 run to start the game. He led the team with a whopping 15 points, one-third of its total in the frame, including three via the long-ball.

His redemption half culminated with just over two minutes to go, when Drew Buggs drove into the lane. Smith, standing in the corner and seeing two help defenders collapse on Buggs, sprinted to the arc on the right wing. Buggs found him, Smith fired and he scored.

One minute later, Smith again took advantage of faulty help-defense and drilled another three-pointer, this time off a pass from Javon Pickett.

Those two threes, plus another earlier in the half, were only two fewer than he had hit in his previous six games combined.

“It definitely felt good to see that first one go through, and then really, I wasn’t worried about anything else after that,” Smith said. “Coach [Martin] had been telling me, ‘When I’m open, shoot it,’ so I felt like they were open shots — the ones I was shooting — and they were going in.”

As Missouri’s only real shooting threat, Smith’s definition of “open” will be more broad than his teammates’. Defenders tend to clamp down on Smith anytime he finds himself beyond the three-point line, because they know he’s the only one who can consistently beat them that way.

He missed some legitimately open shots along the way, too, but Martin noted that he needs to be prepared to shoot whenever it’s remotely possible.

“As a really good shooter, you’re not gonna get always clean looks,” Martin said. “But you have to be ready to shoot the ball, and he was ready to shoot the ball tonight. Not that he wasn’t ready to shoot it the last game; it just didn’t go in. But he was ready to shoot it tonight.”

In the road win over Texas A&M on Saturday, Smith launched seven long-balls and sank only one, which came when the game was all but under wraps for Missouri. Onlookers started to get especially concerned about Smith when he bricked two three-pointers in a row early in the second half.

Missouri’s offense, driven by Smith, had looked like it would be better than it had ever been under Martin early in the season, but had since taken a nosedive — at least as far as shooting efficiency is concerned — with Smith on a cold streak.

“We need Mark to shoot the ball,” Martin said after the Texas A&M game. “He shot one for seven for three. If you’re open for three every time, we need that ball to go up, because he can make shots. We need the ball to go in for Mark.”

Through all this, Smith never lost his confidence. Not against Illinois, when he shot one for six in only 22 foul-restricted minutes. Not against Tennessee, when the Vols’ smothering defense limited him to just two shot attempts. Not against Mississippi State, when another cold-shooting night contributed to Missouri’s second-half collapse.

And not even in that Texas A&M game.

He’ll need that confidence to remain, as Missouri heads into the most difficult stretch of its season: road games in Knoxville, where the Vols remain a top-10 team in the country (strictly in basketball) despite a bad loss to Florida, and Auburn, where the other Tigers’ true freshman point guard Sharife Cooper is emerging as a top player in the SEC.

“[Martin] knows I’m confident, so I’m gonna keep shooting them if they’re open, if they’re falling or not,” Smith said. “My teammates are counting on me to knock those open ones down, so it was good tonight to see them go in.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell |

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