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MU takes on Central Arkansas in the home opener

MU's Jeremiah Tilmon and Central Arkansas's Hayden Koval tangle looking for a rebound during the second half of the game between the Missouri Tigers and the Central Arkansas Bears on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at the Mizzou Arena in Columbia. Photo by J.B. Forbes,

COLUMBIA, MO. • After each Missouri men’s basketball game we’re going to post a new feature, a quick look back at what unfolded on the court. The Tigers didn’t always look pretty in Tuesday’s 68-55 win over Central Arkansas but were never in serious danger of suffering the upset.

Player of the game

Only four times in 30 games last year at Illinois did Mark  Smith connect on multiple 3-pointers. His single-game high was four 3s. He topped that by the opening minutes of the second half in his Mizzou debut, scoring 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. Not bad for a 23-percent shooter as a freshman. Upon first glance, this team is going to need some prolific shooting nights like the one Smith provided Tuesday. Kassius Robertson isn’t walking through that door. Jordan Barnett either. Cuonzo  Martin left Tuesday’s game insisting Jordan Geist is a far better shooter than he showed — he missed all six of his 3-pointers — and believes Torrence Watson can be an effective perimeter shooter, too. (He made 1 of 4 from long range.) But Smith is the guy Martin and teammates have praised for his marksmanship from deep.

Smith is an unconventional player. He's got good size for a guard with tree trunks for legs that should help him power through traffic. He's not particularly fast or quick but knows how to get open. He didn’t handle the ball very much in the halfcourt but he ignited Mizzou’s offense with 10 defensive rebounds then routinely got in position on the perimeter for open 3s once the ball got inside on penetration or post looks.

The analytics loved his Mizzou debut: Among the eight regulars who played double-digit minutes, he posted the game’s highest offensive rating (176.6), highest effective field-goal percentage (94) and true shooting percentage (96). He also made a team-high 11 stops on defense and led the Tigers in rebound rate, collecting 18.5 percent of the available boards when he was on the floor.

Smith appears to be a great fit for Martin’s style. He’s got the range to let it fly from deep and the ability to lower his head and attack the rim to create chances for his teammates. He’s one of the strongest players on the team and showed that by muscling his way inside for 10 boards. Strong debut for the sophomore.

Looking good …

Jeremiah Tilmon got through the first 18 minutes without a foul and once his teammates found him inside, he dominated possessions in the low post. His jump hook was mostly unstoppable. He set career-high marks for field goals (eight) and field goal attempts (14). That should be the norm for Tilmon this year in Jontay Porter’s absence.

“He puts time into it and thinks every shot is supposed to go in,” Martin said. “That left shoulder is hard to guard. Because he can move you. He’s 6-10 ½. That’s hard to guard. The way the game is officiated why not throw the ball inside?”

• Central Arkansas shot just 29.4 percent inside the 3-point arc and rebounded only seven of hits 41 missed shots. The Tigers were solid defensively.

• Who is Javon  Pickett? Maybe J.T. Tiller with a jumper. The freshman from Belleville plays with energy, commits to defense and can guard multiple positions. His jumper is a little funky but he knocked down two of three 3-pointers. He’s a classic Cuonzo player. Gritty, selfless but with enough offense he’s not a liability on the floor.

“I thought Javon was good,” Martin said. “Javon knows how to get his nose dirty. Physical player. Has really improved his shot.”

• Xavier  Pinson adds elements of speed and quickness to the backcourt. He plays with some flash. That’s going to lead to some highlight plays — and some likely turnovers. He got a little dribble happy at times and the offense got stagnant with him at the controls, but he managed a team-high four assists, including a nifty bounce pass into Reed  Nikko on the low block. If he can polish his pull-up jumper in the lane, Pinson can give this team a real burst off the bench.

• Rough shooting night for Kevin  Puryear, but he supplied 10 rebounds, scored his only points on a putback and had eight stops on defense.

• Efficient night for Nikko. Three shots in five six minutes for six points. If that's his role all season, he'll be just fine.

Needs some work …

• If the Missouri offense was a running back last night it did too much dancing in the backfield and didn’t attack the hole. “I would like to see more drives to the basket,” Martin said. “We did a poor job going east-west on the perimeter instead of attacking downhill or even throwing the ball inside. For us, I consider a paint or post touch when you throw it inside, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be off the dribble. We didn’t do a good job of attacking downhill, getting to the basket. We were passive against the switch.”

Martin believes this team will be better off the dribble than last year’s team, a group that included better spot-up shooters. There were flashes of that attack mode last night. Watson had a nice drive to the rim off a shot-fake. Geist started attacking more once his jumper wasn’t falling. Martin wants to see more.

• The two seniors were off on the offensive end, though Martin isn’t worried about Geist’s shot. He’s shot much better in the exhibitions and practices. The senior point guard looked like he was pressing early and got a little hesitant on some open looks. His only baskets came on layups. Puryear, too, struggled from the field, missing all but one of his seven attempts, including two misses at the rim. Both seniors looked tight on the opening night of their senior season. Puryear, normally a strong free throw shooter, missed all three of his chances at the line.

“Shooting-wise they probably had an off night, but being leaders and encouraging other guys, that’s what helped everybody else knock down shots, just from their energy,” Pickett said. “You can believe next game they’ll knock down shots and bounce back.”

• If K.J. Santos is the player Missouri expected - a versatile perimeter player who can shoot from the wing with enough size to defend stretch fours and rebound - then he'll help this team, eventually. Martin didn't sound too encouraged when asked about the transfer's foot injury.

"He’s not practicing yet," Martin said. "I don’t know. He’s out of the boot so he’s able to shoot without the boot. But he’s not practicing."

Next up …

Friday’s trip to Iowa State (1-0) will be a major test for the Tigers (1-0). The Cyclones opened at home Tuesday night in front of nearly 14,000 at Hilton Coliseum — always a raucous home environment — and hammered Alabama State 79-53. A few numbers stood out: The Cyclones had 13 steals, scored 20 points off turnovers and scored 13 fast-break points.

This isn’t the ISU team Mizzou beat last year at home: Steve  Prohm’s roster features two high-major transfers in Michael Jacobson (Nebraska) and Marial Shayok (Virginia), plus touted four-star freshman guard Talen Horton-Tucker, a teammate of Pinson’s at Simeon Career Academy.

Dave Matter is the Mizzou beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.