Missouri men’s basketball’s frontcourt continues to impress as Jeremiah Tilmon returns in win over South Carolina

Forward Jeremiah Tilmon rejoined the team after a two-game leave and scored a team-high 17 points.

The makeup of the Missouri men’s basketball team changed dramatically when forward Jeremiah Tilmon wasn’t on the court for its last two games. Coach Cuonzo Martin switched up his strategy, and reserves took on some of the center’s role.

With Missouri’s leading rebounder back in the fold, frontcourt players such as Parker Braun and Kobe Brown — who stepped up in Tilmon’s place — continued to receive minutes even when sharing touches and playing time with Tilmon in a 93-78 win at South Carolina.

“To have him back, it's like, ‘That’s one of our guys,’” Martin said. “We feel what he feels, and though it’s not a blood relationship, we feel that because that's our guy. To have him back in the fold, of course they’re happy to have him back.”

Braun and Brown’s minutes boost carried over into Saturday afternoon. Both played more minutes than their average on Saturday and continued their high benchmarks.

Early on, it looked like there was another career high in store for Brown on Saturday. Before the first media timeout, Missouri’s starting forward dropped seven points, nearly matching his point total from the first Missouri-South Carolina matchup on Jan. 19.

Brown’s hot start came as a result of Tilmon coming off the bench for the first time this season. Mitchell Smith received the starting nod as the second starting forward, meaning the normal starter Brown received most of the post touches.

Brown stepped up to lead his team in shots and points in the first half. An efficient 5-7 shooting performance with two steals in just 10 minutes established Missouri’s dominance early on.

“I think Kobe gives us a huge lift, and I think that he's just playing more aggressive,” guard Dru Smith said. “I don't think he's really doing a lot of things differently. I think just whenever he has the ball in his hands, and he's getting those touches, he's making plays.”

Braun played 14 minutes off the bench and shot the ball well despite his limited touches, scoring four points while collecting a rebound and an assist.

The redshirt sophomore had a stretch of games where he didn’t see the floor, but Martin acknowledges that he can contribute just as well as anyone on the team.

“He's a factor and we gotta find a way to keep him in the fold,” Martin said. “He's a talented young man.”

But the focus of today was Tilmon’s return, and he restored his All-SEC level of play from January with a team-high 17 points and four rebounds while going perfect from the field and the charity stripe.

“Sometimes those fresh legs are a good thing,” Martin said. “He had a chance to be with his family and gather his thoughts. There were no expectations from us: Just play as hard as you can play.”

In the first half, while not playing his usual minute load, Tilmon looked confident after burying his first two free throws, then used his quick hands to bank a layup off the glass while being fouled.

Tilmon controlled the paint in the second half, overpowering South Carolina’s big men as the Tigers staved off another second-half collapse. He was one of five Tigers to produce at least a dozen points.

Missouri’s offense looked completely different than it had the prior two outings. When Tilmon caught the ball in the post, defenders shaded toward the lane expecting a move from the big man. South Carolina gave him too much attention, which kept the Gamecock defense honest and opened up opportunities for the Tigers to knock down nine threes.

But the game, offense and the playing opportunities are secondary to a player’s family and their emotional state. All things considered, Martin and the rest of the Missouri family were just glad to see him on the court again.

“It was definitely nice to have him back,” Dru Smith said. “Obviously we're all happy, and energy is lifted a little bit just to get him back in the locker room.”

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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