The Missouri Tigers had their hands full Tuesday night. Not only were they getting beat by a lackluster team they were favored to beat at home, but the team now had the restless fan base to deal with, who were already filing out of Mizzou Arena.
They knew it was coming, the criticism. They could feel it. Players aren’t blind to what their perception is, despite the fact they seldom acknowledge it.
Not again. Another loss. There’s going to be more criticism of coach Cuonzo Martin, they’re going to say the players gave up, they’re going to pick the team apart.
But then slowly, and with precision, Xavier Pinson began to hit small shots and get to the foul line. Big man Reed Nikko was able to establish a presence inside in the continued absence of Jeremiah Tilmon, and played what many local journalists referred to as the best game of his career.
Dru Smith’s 16 points were essential as well, and his chemistry with Pinson during the second half comeback was butter. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to enable the comeback.
Defense was a key, as Mizzou had essentially allowed Georgia Bulldogs standout Anthony Edwards to have a pro-day exhibition up to that point. On draft day, when Edwards easily goes in the top-5, you’ll likely see highlights from this game at some point. But the Tigers were able to contain Edwards in a team effort, while Georgia wasn’t able to supply an answer from someone else.
But perhaps the happiest person was Coach Martin. You could tell from the tone in his voice and the words he used that the relief he’s feeling will allow him to have a much better night of sleep than he’s been getting lately. He was happy for his players that succeeded, and happy he didn’t have to go into a defensive mode to start his press conference.
It was a feel-good night all around.
The big positive in this is that Mizzou was able to win this game after abandoning what is perceived to be their primary strength, the three-point shot. Granted that Reed Nikko will not be able to win every game for Mizzou simply by taking the ball to the hoop, but with Jeremiah Tilmon expected to return this Saturday at South Carolina, there may be a new dynamic approach to the Tigers’ offense.
Relying on the three-point shot is like taking a gamble. But being able to have two legitimate threats to keep defenses guessing, might help open up the three a little bit more.
We’ll see how this game plan plays out against the Gamecocks, game time is 2:30pm Mizzou Time on SEC Network.
Obnoxious Mizzou Fan is 3-0 as a backyard wrestler. Follow him on Twitter.