Missouri left much to be desired in its 68-55 season-opening win over Central Arkansas. The Tigers struggled to score throughout the game and let the Bears cut MU’s lead to single digits multiple times.
But Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin was not ready to push the panic button on Tuesday night, even with a road game at Iowa State looming on Friday night. Missouri shot 42 percent from the field and just 31 percent and 46 percent from the three-point and free-throw lines, respectively.
Illinois transfer Mark Smith led the Tigers in scoring Tuesday with 19 points and a career-high 10 rebounds and was the lone MU newcomer to make a significant impact on offense. Freshman Javon Pickett, who started on the wing, had seven points and four rebounds while classmates Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson struggled.
“I thought Javon was good,” Martin said. “Javon knows how to get his nose dirty. Torrence and (Pinson) didn’t play as well, but they did some things. Torrence is a better shooter than what he showed. And if he can good looks like that I feel good about it.”
Martin echoed the same sentiment about seniors Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear. Despite Puryear’s 10 rebounds, the duo combined for seven points on 3-for-17 shooting and struggled to make open shots or get into a rhythm offensively.
Martin’s rationale was that Puryear and Geist have been playing too well to make performance’s like Tuesday become a habit.
Then there’s Smith.
“Y’all can see how important (he) was for us,” said sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon said.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore kept the Tigers’ offense afloat when they needed a basket, hitting a three early in the second half to put Missouri up 35-20 with 18:35 left in the game. Smith hit another three shortly after to keep MU’s lead at 15 and added a layup with four minutes left to extend the lead to 63-49.
A 23 percent three-point shooter during his freshman year at Illinois, Smith shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc on Tuesday while pulling down a career-high 10 rebounds.
“We knew he was really good,” Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said. “There wasn’t tons of film on him either from even his days at Illinois. I think what makes him so good is he gets his shot off so quick, he’s got great range. What we were trying to do is help our bigs dig down in the post, some guys forgot Smith was the best shooter out there and we dug off the wrong guy.”
Smith got also help from Tilmon, who managed to stay out of foul trouble for the entire first half and didn’t pick up a foul until the 14:44 mark in the second.
Tilmon finished with 16 points and five rebounds and had MU running a lot of offense through him with Porter out.
“If the ball comes my way I’m looking to score,” Tilmon said.
Mizzou now has to get its act together quickly, as the Tigers head to Hilton Coliseum on Friday for the return game in their series with Iowa State.
The Cyclones were picked ninth in the Big 12 preseason poll but still serve as a good measuring stick for Mizzou with a tough non-conference schedule looming.
Martin knows Missouri has issues to address, but he loves the challenge the game presents for his relatively young and inexperienced team.
“I love to play at home,” Martin said. “But I’d rather go on the road and play a game. See what you’re made of.”