Not even the announcement of Kelly Bryant’s commitment to Missouri could distract Cuonzo Martin’s squad on Tuesday night. Mizzou dominated Texas-Arlington all 40 minutes in a 65-45 blowout win to improve to 5-3.
Tipping off just after former Clemson star quarterback Bryant announced his decision to transfer from Clemson to Missouri, MU got good minutes from all of its freshmen and had three players in double figures, led by freshman Torrence Watson with 12.
Missouri got through the first half without much trouble, which is what should be expected against a team like the Mavericks. Texas-Arlington had one player on its roster taller than 6-foot-6, giving the Tigers a huge size advantage.
Javon Pickett got Missouri off to an early lead with a pair of corner threes to put MU up 6-2 with 16 minutes remaining. The Tigers entered the game as the leading three-point shooting team in the Southeastern Conference and shot 4-for-7 from deep in the first half. Pickett finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Watson added a pair of threes later in the first half to extend Missouri’s lead to 25-17. Watson had struggled greatly this season but showed his ability to hit shots from all over the floor.
The Tigers were able to get out in transition more, too, which Martin has emphasized. Last season, MU thrived on playing fast and scoring in transition.
While turnovers have been a factor throughout the Tigers’ last two seasons, Missouri took care of the ball on Tuesday. The Mavericks couldn’t say the same. Texas-Arlington had 12 turnovers in the first half, with seven coming in the opening minutes. The Mavericks had 20 turnovers for the game.
“The biggest thing we talked about was activity on the ball,” Martin said of forcing turnovers. “To play against that style, there’s a lot back-cuts that go on the back side. So guys might be a step slow. So you need good pressure on the ball to buy time. I thought our guys did a good job of getting deflections.”
Thanks to its size advantage and three-point shooting, Missouri was able to avoid the late-first half collapse it has suffered in multiple games this season. At the end of the first half, Mitchell Smith hit a long three to beat the buzzer and send MU into the break up 37-21.
Martin would like to see more of what he saw Tuesday night — plenty of scoring in transition — and thinks it depends upon the play of Jeremiah Tilmon and Reed Nikko.
“I think when our big guys go we go,” he said. “Jordan Geist is doing a good job pushing, we have to get Xavier(Pinson) to do a better job of pushing the ball to put pressure on the defense.”
Tilmon took advantage of his 6-foot-10 frame and finished with his second double-double of the season.
Despite taking just four shots, Tilmon finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. He went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to improve his percentage to 81. As a freshman, he shot just 52 percent at the line.
Martin credited assistant coach Chris Hollender for improving Tilmon’s shot over the past year.
“Last year, I took three dribbles and paused for four, five seconds (before shooting),” Tilmon said. “Now I just take two dribbles and go into my rhythm. And that’s been helping.”
Mavericks forward Andres Ibarguen led Texas-Arlington with nine points.
Missouri will face Oral Roberts on Friday. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. on the SEC Network. Martin said after the game that sophomore K.J. Santos has been cleared to play and will likely make his MU debut on Friday. He’s been out with a fractured right foot.