Missouri rides perimeter defense to win over Wichita State

The Shockers’ starting guards shot 28% from the field against the now-3-0 Tigers.

Going into their Sunday afternoon announcing gig in Wichita, Kan., ESPN2 commentators Chuckie Kempf and Mark Adams liked Missouri. By midway through the second half, they liked Missouri to a frightening degree.

“Missouri came into the season voted 10th in the SEC,” Adams said. “Whoever did that must have been smoking something. And that’s only legal in some states.”

In particular, Kempf and Adams loved the Tigers’ defensive performance. And they had a point. Coach Cuonzo Martin’s now-3-0 Missouri team allowed only 62 points in a win over Wichita State, and not by accident.

“I would say we were physical on defense,” forward Kobe Brown said. “We made sure we handled our assignments to the best that we could. We talked a lot, we helped each other on defense, and I feel like that helped us out in the long run and got us the dub.”

Missouri’s starting guards Dru Smith, Mark Smith and Xavier Pinson have developed a reputation for being one of the stingier backcourts in the league.

“Outside of those last six minutes of the first half, I thought we did a great job of really being physical and trying to defend without fouling,” Martin said. “They got talented, quick guards and they really put us in some tough situations. … But overall, I thought our guards did a great job.”

Wichita State’s three starters on the perimeter — Dexter Dennis, Tyson Etienne and Alterique Gilbert — combined to go 11 of 39 shooting, good for a 28% clip. That number would be below average for a three-point percentage, but it’s abysmal from the field.

The law firm, as SEC Network announcer Ben Arnet described them during the season-opening win over Oral Roberts, of Smith, Smith and Pinson continued to play sound on and off-ball defense. They moved their feet and went after the ball when they needed to.

The trio combined for four takeaways, two of which came from Dru Smith, who led the SEC in steals last year.

Mark Smith noted their chemistry in the backcourt, which has been able to develop through playing together the past three years.

“I just feel like we’re connected, all three guards on the court,” Mark Smith said. “All five, really. But especially us three, when we’re out there together, I feel like we guard really well.”

Martin pointed out one rough stretch for the Tigers’ defense. It had allowed only 12 points through the first 13 minutes of the first half, but struggled down the stretch. Wichita State scored 18 over the final seven.

“The last six minutes of the first half, I thought they were more the aggressor,” Martin said. “They set the tone on us, and we settled a little bit. We got a little passive.”

The Tigers’ rotations near the end line weren’t up to par, as the backside defense struggled against reserve Shocker forward Clarence Jackson.

“Clarence ate us up,” Martin said. “Our backside defense was not prepared for that action. That first basket, Jeremiah [Tilmon] was there on our backside defense, and they dumped it off and got a layup. Just made the necessary adjustments in the second half.”

Additionally, Gilbert went off to close out the first half, scoring 10 of the Shockers’ 18 points down the stretch including the final seven. He ended the frame with 12, but that was about all the redshirt senior did on Sunday.

Gilbert finished the game with 13, only one point coming in the second half.

“We knew he’s a talented guy, you know that,” Martin said. “The key is to force him to a certain hand. We could get him to a certain hand and make him shoot over big guys.”

Edited by Anna Cowden | acowden@themaneater.com

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