Missouri men top Ole Miss behind Pinson’s spark

Another career performance from Xavier Pinson guided the Tigers to a 71-68 win.

There were fouls, scoring droughts and few successful 3-pointers. The game was ugly at times, barely watchable at others, but Missouri men’s basketball (13-13, 5-8 SEC) managed a 71-68 victory over Ole Miss (13-13, 4-9 SEC) on Tuesday night thanks to a spark: Xavier Pinson.

The sophomore guard set yet another career high in scoring with 32 points, continuing an electric stretch of play that has the Tigers grateful for their new centerpiece.

“We’ve known [Pinson] is a great player,” redshirt junior guard Dru Smith said. “He’s just stepped it up to a level guys haven’t seen before. We’re all very impressed.”

Performances like this are suddenly becoming the norm for Pinson, who’s playing with added confidence of late.

“We’re here for a reason,” he said. “So why not take the time to put in the work and have as much fun as we can while we’re here? That’s what I’ve been doing lately.”

Pinson started off hot, scoring Missouri’s first seven points, but found himself in some early foul trouble, restricting his first half minutes. Smith spent more time at point guard, reaching double-digit scoring in the first half. Sophomore guard Torrence Watson also earned a heavier first half-workload.

The first half of the game was hardly attractive basketball. Both teams combined to shoot 2-17 from 3-point range – Ole Miss made none – and more fouls were called (21) than field goals made (19). Nonetheless, Missouri entered the break with a four-point lead.

Setting a career high in minutes in just the first half, redshirt freshman Parker Braun made his own highlight reel with a block and dunk — that was ruled an offensive foul — that earned the former walk-on plenty of love from the crowd.

Pinson came out of the second-half gates firing, draining back-to-back 3’s in seemingly unstoppable fashion. Guided by his effort, the Tigers went from trailing by one to leading by 10 in six minutes of play.

Midway through the second half, it only took the Rebels 98 seconds to erase that 10-point lead. After an invisible start to the half, Ole Miss senior guard Breein Tyree, the SEC scoring leader, snagged pairs of 3-pointers and free throws for the Rebels to level the game and eventually lead on a 12-1 run.

Even after Ole Miss went more than five minutes without making a field goal, Missouri’s offense similarly stalled and the Tigers couldn’t gain separation.

They were helped in the final seconds, however, by their free throw prowess, a constant bright spot this season. Forced to foul, the Rebels had little choice but to send the likes of Smith (shooting 90% from the line so far this season) and Pinson (80%) to the charity stripe.

“All of this stuff started in June,” coach Cuonzo Martin said of his team’s late-game success. “It’s just [about] the maturity of basketball players.”

On the final possession, needing three points to tie, Smith fell down while guarding Tyree, giving Ole Miss’ standout a wide-open shot. The ball clanked off the rim, though, and the Rebels didn’t have enough time to put up a quality buzzer-beater after grabbing an offensive rebound.

Missouri visits Arkansas (16-10, 4-9 SEC) at noon on Saturday. The game is already sold out.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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