When Missouri has three starters in foul trouble, the result is a blowout loss. When Tennessee has two, it’s the opposite.
The No. 3 Volunteers (13-1, 2-0 SEC) showed they don’t need to rely on star players Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, as Tennessee blew out Missouri (9-4, 0-1 SEC) 87-63 on Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena. The duo came in averaging nearly 40 points a game between the two of them and left with just half. The loss ended Missouri’s six-game winning streak.
Jordan Bowden led Tennessee with 20 points while Kyle Alexander had 14 points and 17 rebounds. The 24-point loss was the largest MU has had under second-year head coach Cuonzo Martin.
Missouri went most of the first half without its best lineups. Sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon went to the bench 2:15 into the game after getting a technical foul, immediately after a personal foul. Mark Smith picked up two fouls shortly after and Javon Pickett later joined him.
“You have guys out there with extended minutes that aren’t used to playing that many minutes,” Martin said.
Still, MU managed to make it work, at least for a while. The Tigers jumped out to a 19-10 lead, powered by the play of seniors Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear. Geist hit three of his first six shots from three and MU got an added boost from K.J. Santos, who played his best game since returning from a fractured right foot. Santos played 26 minutes and scored seven points, both career-highs.
Geist continued his strong senior season, with a pair of flashy assists. With Puryear streaking to the basket, Geist casually threw the 6-foot-7 forward a no-look, behind-the-back pass, which Puryear turned into a wide-open dunk to put MU up 27-18. The 6-foot-2 guard had 12 points for Missouri while freshman Xavier Pinson had a career-high 14 points.
Like Missouri, Tennessee had a response from its reserves. With star players Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield on the bench, junior Jordan Bone keyed a 13-0 run for the Vols to give Tennessee the lead with 4:31 left. Bone scored 15 points in the first half and finished with 17. Tennessee closed the first half on a 24-4 run to go into halftime up 42-31.
“They came out and punched us early,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “That was good for our team.”
Missouri, which entered Tuesday’s game as the SEC’s lowest scoring team, went the final 2:23 of the first half without a basket. The Tigers’ 62 points were seven below its season average of 69.
Williams, an All-American candidate entering Tuesday’s game, was held scoreless in the first half and was guarded by Puryear, while the Tigers only held Schofield to a basket. Puryear said that while MU was able to contain Williams, it was Alexander’s play that proved to be the difference in the game. Without Tilmon, Alexander had his way with MU backup center Reed Nikko and never struggled to score.
“He changed the whole game for them,” Puryear said.
The return of Tilmon, Smith and Pickett did little for MU in the second half. The trio combined for 19 minutes in the first half, and it took just 45 seconds into the second half for Tilmon to pick up his third foul. Tilmon logged a season-low nine minutes and scored just three points with a rebound. Pinson and Geist had just one turnover between the two of them, which kept Tennessee from further extending its lead.
Smith had two baskets early in the second half to keep the Vols’ lead at 10, but MU put up little resistance on defense to get any closer. Williams scored his first basket of the game with 15:25 left and had just four points against MU.
“I thought we did a good job as a team (guarding Williams) but it shows you the level of team they have,” Martin said.
The Tigers head on the road for SEC play on Saturday with a trip to South Carolina. Tip-off is slated for noon CT on SEC Network.