COLUMBIA, Mo. — Guard Mark Smith went 0 for 4 from the field, all of them 3-point attempts, for Mizzou in its season opener against Incarnate Word on Wednesday. That turned out to be zero concern for his coach and teammates.
“We all know what Mark can do,” said forward Mitchell Smith. “When he gets the ball, it’s going up. I have the most confidence in him. That’s why you see me passing the ball. I don’t care if he goes 0 for 4 or 0 for 10, I’m going to give him the ball for the next shot.”
“I never worried about Mark’s shot,” Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin said, “because of the time he puts into it. Whenever he shoots, I think it’s going in. The biggest thing for me for Mark was not to get seven, eight months back in two days. Just let the game come to you.”
Mark Smith, one of three unrelated Smiths on the Mizzou roster, scored 19 points, his first points since last season ended early for him on Feb. 19 because of a foot injury, as the Tigers defeated Northern Kentucky 71-56 Friday night at Mizzou Arena.
A 17-0 run in the second half broke the game open, turning what had been a tight game into a much easier one against a team that had gone to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three seasons. It was a strong second act for the Tigers, who now travel to face Xavier on Tuesday.
“It was a good one,” Martin said. “You wonder why you schedule it, but you have to schedule teams like this.”
• BOX SCORE: Mizzou 71, Northern Kentucky 56
Smith missed a 3-pointer on Mizzou’s first possession, but then hit his next three, two in the first four minutes. He finished the game one 3-pointer away from his career high for points.
Three-pointers are Smith’s game. He made 45 percent from the field last season to lead the SEC. It was the eighth-best mark in school history, and he was one of just six players in power conferences to shoot that well.
With that in his background, his 0 for 4 against Incarnate Word stood out. On Friday, he stood out.
“The first game, I was just excited to be out there with a healthy foot,” he said. “I worked hard to get out there. I didn’t shoot the ball as good as I wanted to, but I was just glad we won. Tonight, I shot the ball good and was happy to make shots to help the team.
“It felt real good. I’ve been putting a lot of work in Thursday, after the game Wednesday. I came in about three times, just to get my legs back under me. Today, I was making them. It was a great feeling.”
“We were in the gym all day,” said forward Kobe Brown, who had 10 points and five rebounds. “Pregame, we never leave, we stay here. Mark’s getting up shots. He was telling me, ‘Man, I hope this goes in tonight.’ I’m telling him, ‘It’s going to work. Keep shooting, whatever, keep shooting,’ and it worked out for him.
“Mark’s a worker. He comes in every morning, 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock sharp, getting up thousands of shots. The coaches have to calm him down because he was getting over an injury and he was still putting in so much work. They had to bring him back a little bit. He’s a worker.”
He had competition for best Smith honors from Mitchell, a 6-foot-10 forward who made two 3-pointers for some of his 10 points, which were instrumental in breaking Northern Kentucky’s zone. He also had seven rebounds. Like Mark Smith, he also went scoreless against Incarnate Word, though he played only 13 minutes that night.
“He’s probably our best guy at flashing against the zone because he makes good decisions,” Martin said. “Probably the last time you guys saw him against the zone was the conference tournament against Georgia. He made two shots flashing. I think he has a lot of comfort in making decisions there, so I’m not surprised but happy for him.”
“I just talk about gaps,” Mitchell Smith said. “You can set a screen and pop because I can shoot a 3. You’ve got to keep moving, get behind players so they can’t keep attention on you. I just have to find my spots and find my other teammates.”
(The team’s third Smith, Dru, had nine points as the Smiths combined for more than half of the team’s points.)
Mizzou was up 43-39 early in the second half when everything fell into place, and seven-plus minutes later, it was 60-39 and that was that. Mitchell and Dru each had five points in the run and Jeremiah Tilmon, who finished with 13 points, had four.
“I think it started with defense,” Mitchell Smith said. “Once we started locking up and getting rebounds and pushing it, everything started flowing. Our guards got the ball where we needed it and then we worked it in and scored.”