COLUMBIA, Mo. — We’re not going to devote too much of the Internet’s infinite space to a 40-point win over Incarnate Word, but let’s get to some next-day thoughts on Missouri’s season-opening takedown of the visitors from San Antonio.
STATS THAT MATTER
Those were the single-game offensive ratings for guards Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson, the two highest of any player who touched the floor for more than three minutes Wednesday.
Even though the Tigers return the second-most scoring of any roster in the Southeastern Conference, this has the look and feel of a much different team for several reasons, mostly at the point guard position. Jordan Geist nobly took on that role last year and became a fringe All-SEC player and the team’s obvious MVP, but Smith’s arrival and an improved Pinson offer a sharp new dynamic in the backcourt. The two ball-handlers rarely looked to shoot the ball — they made a combined 5 of 7 field goal attempts in 42 minutes — but became Cuonzo Martin’s reliable, pass-first playmakers who kept the whole engine running. They both had five assists, got to the foul line 16 times combined and consistently pushed the tempo. It’s only one game, but the Tigers showed signs Wednesday of an accelerated attack. Which gets us to …
That was the KenPom game pace Wednesday, the highest of any Mizzou game under Martin. For reference, the Tigers were in the 70s only nine times last year and never higher than 74. More often than not after missed baskets, Pinson and Smith snatched the rebound or the outlet pass and went on the attack.
“In practice every day, make or miss, we want to push the ball up the court,” Pinson said, “because we want to make sure we have good shot clock time.”
“I think it’s a way big difference because last year there were times we lost the shot clock and next thing you know it’s six seconds and we’d be like, ‘Oh!” and we’d have to do something really quick that won’t look too good. This year we’ll do a better job of controlling the clock and executing our plays.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jeremiah Tilmon is almost always the biggest player on the floor in any game the Tigers play, but he’d never blocked more than three shots in a game. That changed against the smallish Cardinals when he swatted five shots in 20 minutes. Only four players in recorded team history have blocked more shots in a game for the Tigers: Laurence Bowers (eight), Arthur Johnson (eight, seven, six, six), Ricardo Ratliffe (six, six) and Travon Bryant (six).
For the past two years Tilmon’s penchant for fouls usually prevented him from aggressively attacking shots in the air, but he shared his secret strategy Wednesday: Ignorance is bliss.
“I was just tyring to play hard and play with my hands up. When they told me I had four fouls and I didn’t even know, honestly,” he said. “I was out there having fun, just hooping.”
“Usually, if I get my first foul or second foul I get to looking up at (the scoreboard)," he said. "But now I’m just out there hooping. My legs were feeling good. I wasn’t really worried about no fouls. I was having fun with a smile on my face.”
Whatever works. Tilmon added a team-high 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
• There will be nights when Mizzou’s shots aren’t falling but the Tigers can win by swarming opponents with depth, size and versatility on the defensive end. That happened Wednesday when the Tigers seemed to simply out-athlete Incarnate Word. With a limited bench, Martin hasn’t had that luxury the last two years. The Cardinals turned the ball over 21 times and made just 13 of 44 2-point attempts. That’s less than 30 percent. "We stayed aggressive," Martin said, "relied on our defense then the offense started to come."
With Kobe Brown and Tray Jackson at the four position on the perimeter, the Tigers have a significant upgrade in athleticism at that spot. That should be be felt on the defensive end more than anything.
• Pinson got to the foul line for 11 free throws. He played under control and always on the attack. Martin called timeout for the final possession of the first half and let his sophomore point man run the show. He jabbed through the defense and knocked down a shot in traffic. Could Pinson have made that play as a freshman? “I feel like the second half of last year I could,” he said. “Not the first couple games. I felt like (last year) I was too fast and not controlling the game. Today I did a way better job of controlling the tempo and getting us everything we wanted.” Wednesday was just a glimpse to why teammates consistently say Pinson is the team’s most improved player.
• Breaking news: Mario McKinney Jr. can jump. For the first time in his three seasons in Columbia, Martin has an elite athlete on the bench he can put in the game to supply boundless energy. That might be McKinney’s primary role this year.
• If you can get 10 points, eight rebounds and a couple assists from Javon Pickett every night, you’ll take that and love it.
• Mark Smith went scoreless after missing all four of his shots, all 3-pointers, but Martin was the least bit worried. “When he’s open it has to fly, without question,” Martin said. “I don’t worry about that.”
• We’re nitpicking here, but the Tigers shot just 19 of 29 from the foul line. That’s 65.6 percent. Not sharp.