The strategy had been fruitless all game, and Jontay Porter ensured that Mississippi State stopped deploying it.
Midway through the second half of Mizzou’s 89-85 overtime win on Saturday, Porter saw a double team developing around him in the low post. He spun toward the basket and threw an underhanded pass to Jordan Barnett for an and-one layup. Missouri guard Kassius Robertson, standing on the perimeter, jumped and screamed. The Tigers were on their way to a win.
“We spent a lot of time with that,” Cuonzo Martin said of beating double-teams in the post.
As they should have.
When Missouri played at Mississippi State earlier this season, Porter and Tilmon each turned the ball over four times because they weren’t able to counter double-teams. But when the Tigers faced the Bulldogs again at home, Tilmon saw two defenders close in on him, calmly turned to face the basket and found Kevin Puryear uncovered for a layup.
Porter and Tilmon, the Tigers’ freshmen big men, only had two assists, but they often spurred ball movement that eventually led to a score.
The trouble with the Tigers relying on two freshmen post players is that they are prone to occasional bad games. But it should be encouraging for Mizzou that when it again faced Mississippi State — the first repeat opponent of the season — Tilmon and Porter showed they had learned from their past effort. They’ll need to do the same on Tuesday, when Missouri faces Texas A&M for the second time this season.
When the Tigers last faced the Aggies, Mizzou players said Texas A&M had “outtoughed” them — and much of that happened in the post.
Texas A&M, which has won four straight games, is one of the few teams that can match the size of Porter and Tilmon. The Aggies’ big men are more experienced, too.
They start two 6-foot-10 players: preseason co-SEC player of the year Robert Williams, a sophomore, and junior Tyler Davis. They also bring 6-11 forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos, a strong pick-and-pop shooting threat, off the bench.
When these teams last played, those big men were three of the four Aggies to score in double figures. Davis had 14 rebounds, too.
Porter missed all 8 of his field-goal attempts in that game and didn’t score against the Aggies. Tilmon had nine points but couldn’t stop anyone inside before fouling out.
“Good learning experience for our young big guys,” Martin said at the time.
So what lessons can the freshmen apply to Tuesday’s game, beyond boxing out better to avoid another minus-8 rebounding margin against the Aggies and to grab more than seven offensive boards?
Porter, who has scored at least 10 points in four straight games, must be prepared to score outside of the paint when he’s matched up against the more physical, less agile Davis. When he faced Davis in Texas, he traveled and had a shot blocked on consecutive possessions.
Tilmon must try to tackle the same challenge he has faced all season: Avoid careless fouls but remain aggressive on both ends of the floor.
He made perhaps his smartest play of the season during overtime of the Tigers’ most recent win, when he drew a charge on Mississippi State despite playing with four fouls. It was a display of progress for one of two Tigers who have been learning from their freshmen mistakes.