With a pair of Jayhawks defenders in his face, Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. drove along the baseline and put a floater in the air, which bounced off the rim.
Luckily for him, Jeremiah Tilmon was already on it.
The 6-foot-11 freshman center jumped over Kansas forward Billy Preston and caught the ball midair for the putback slam, sending Missouri’s half of the Sprint Center into mayhem. Missouri’s bench exploded in excitement, causing backup point guard Jordan Geist to restrain his team as if he worked for arena security.
In a game in which Porter, Missouri’s star player, needed 20 shots to score 21 points, Tilmon stole part of the show, shooting 5 for 5 from the field. He finished with 10 points and four rebounds in the Tigers’ 93-87 exhibition loss to the Jayhawks in the Showdown for Relief charity game.
“He was a beast down there,” senior wing Jordan Barnett said. “He was active on offensive and defensive glass, which is what we preach to him all the time. He’s a bull down there.”
Bull, not bullfrog.
Tilmon had another putback slam on a fast break and went board for board with Jayhawks sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike. On one play, Tilmon ripped a rebound from three Jayhawks defenders after the four of them came down with a part of the ball in their hands.
In his first game with Missouri, the East St. Louis native gave the Tigers multiple second-chance opportunities on offense and showed his post-up game against one of the best teams in the nation.
He showed off his jump shot and displayed his athleticism when he needed to, whether it was a post-up move around the basket or an acrobatic leap to secure a loose rebound.
“He’s a guy who puts pressure on your defense because he runs the floor so well,” Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters at SEC Tipoff last Wednesday. “He’s also a great offensive rebounder. He’s relentless at attacking the glass. That’s what separates him from a lot of bigs. He doesn’t let up.”
Martin said he thinks Missouri’s players feed off of Tilmon’s energy in practice, which is what makes it tough to distinguish a good day for him from a bad one.
Tilmon struggled with foul trouble on Sunday, fouling out with just under six minutes remaining in the second half despite having two extra fouls than he would in a regular-season game.
He also went 0 for 3 from the free-throw line on a day where Missouri shot a miserable 55 percent from the charity stripe.
Despite his bad moments, Martin thought Sunday was a good day for Tilmon.
“He did a great job of sprinting, being aggressive,” Martin said. “As long as he’s sprinting the floor, (being) aggressive in the post, I’m OK with that. I thought it was a plus for him across the board because, again, we haven’t spent a lot of time on our post defense.”
Ever since Tilmon signed with Missouri in May, after asking out of his letter of intent with Illinois, he’s done all the little things in the offseason to put himself in this position.
He added 14 pounds of muscle over the summer, after not really spending a lot of time in the weight room while in high school.
He also cut his body fat from 18 percent to 14 after buying into strength coach Nicodemus Christopher’s workout regimen.
Tilmon, who wasn’t available to reporters on Sunday, said on Saturday that he didn’t really know a lot about the Border War rivalry after growing up on the St. Louis side of the state. He said the Jayhawks made a strong play for him after he parted ways with Illinois, which was a motivator for him to play well.
After a strong performance in Missouri’s first rivalry game of the season, Tilmon said on Saturday he’s already circled the Tigers’ matchup against Illinois on Dec. 23 in the annual Braggin’ Rights game.
He remembers what a lot of the Illini’s fans comments after he decommitted. He never responded and wants his play to do the talking.
“(Illinois fans) were talking a lot,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that one.”