Missouri’s loss to struggling Texas A&M on Saturday showed that the Tigers’ season is more about building for the future instead of winning in the present.
The best exemplars of that were MU’s three freshman guards, in Javon Pickett, Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson.
Pickett led Mizzou with 15 points, which marked the second straight game in which he was Tigers’ top offensive option. Watson added 12 points, which tied a career-high, and continued to show why he was a four-star recruit out of high school. Pinson continued to address Cuonzo Martin’s biggest concerns to his game and was Missouri’s lone scorer off the bench.
Of the three, Pickett has been the most consistent player for Missouri, as he’s started every game and has been Martin’s model for work ethic, spending long hours in the gym and film room all year.
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But in the absence of Mark Smith, who has missed the last five games due to an ankle injury, Pinson and Watson have made the most strides. Both have started in place of Smith and have kept MU in games despite being without the team’s’ second-leading scorer. After Mizzou’s 12-point loss at No. 1 Tennessee on Tuesday, Martin said he would go to battle with all three freshmen based on how they played against the Vols.
Watson’s struggles have been well-documented, and even expected. After scoring over 2,700 points at Whitfield in St. Louis, a Class 3 school, Watson knew that he wasn’t going to be able to score at will like he did in high school. Earlier in MU’s season, Watson looked lost on the floor at times and only shot corner threes when being involved on offense.
Against Texas A&M, he had a healthy diet of threes from all over the floor while also slashing to the basket. Watson also held his own on defense, which is what’s been his biggest struggle since he arrived at Mizzou.
“Coach Martin has really keyed in on if you don’t play defense, you won’t play,” he said. “That’s his motto.”
Watson’s playing time has come in waves. He logged just two minutes in Missouri’s win over Central Florida and then set a career-high on Saturday with 31. The 6-foot-5 freshman has said he doesn’t mind the inconsistent playing time as long as he’s helping the team.
But Martin said on Friday that Watson’s role as a reserve in some games was probably one of his bigger adjustments after being the alpha dog at Whitfield the last four years.
“Having a limited role as opposed to the last four years, that’s not easy,” Martin said. “I think out of those three he’s our better defender. I wouldn’t have said that before.”
Martin’s concerns with Pinson have been similar to Watson on defense. And he has asked him to become more simplistic on offense, as his trademark no-look passes often led to turnovers — one of the Tigers’ biggest problems.
Pinson has had just two turnovers in the last three games and had a no-look pass go his way on Saturday, after he fed Jordan Geist on a fast break for a layup.
While Missouri’s struggles have fans thinking more about the group’s potential in a year or two, the trio is still focused on the present, instead of what their play can bring in the future.
“We’re really focused on this year,” Watson said. “Knowing that we’re young guys, if we keep getting people to come to this program, we have a chance to win championships one day.”