For the second consecutive game, Missouri blew a 13-point lead in the second half at home against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
On Tuesday, the Tigers found a way to win despite that.
Missouri (12-11, 3-8 SEC) beat Arkansas 79-78 after a last-second play went awry for the Hogs (14-10, 5-6 SEC). Jeremiah Tilmon led the Tigers with 21 points after missing Saturday’s game, while Jordan Geist scored 18.
Missouri had very little go wrong for it offensively in the first half, scoring a season-high 46 points. Tilmon’s return gave the Tigers a jolt as he scored 12 points. Freshman Javon Pickett found Tilmon twice for a pair of dunks while fitting the ball in tight windows. Missouri also had a strong half from Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, who had eight points and seven rebounds. Puryear took advantage of his mismatch with 6-foot-5 guard Mason Jones and was more aggressive on offense as a result.
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Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin said he tried to run offense through Puryear early on because Missouri’s power forward spot is crucial to its offense and the team hadn’t had any production from there lately. After the game, Martin said Puryear’s performance gave MU what it needed.
“Every time I had a mismatch I just really posted my butt off every time, regardless of whether I’m going to get the ball or not, just exploit it and make it known that we have a mismatch,” Puryear said. “Because when we have mismatches, not only do I have a mismatch, somebody else has a mismatch as well.”
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s press wasn’t as effective on Missouri early in the game, largely thanks to freshman point guard Xavier Pinson. He relished playing up-tempo and had no problem breaking the press and finding his teammates. Pinson helped put MU up 20-10 after driving through the lane and finding a wide open Geist for a corner three. The basket capped off a 7-0 run for MU. Pinson finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Missouri had just 11 turnovers as a team.
“He’s growing up,” Martin said of Pinson.
Missouri’s only issue in the first half was containing Arkansas sophomore Daniel Gafford, a likely first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft. Gafford had 16 points and four rebounds in the first half and tried to dunk every time he touched the ball. Gafford finished with a game-high 26 points on 12-for-17 shooting.
The Tigers let Arkansas stay within striking distance with missed layups and a pair of boneheaded fouls. Pickett was called for a flagrant foul preventing a Gabe Osabuohien fast-break layup. Tilmon was called for a technical shortly after when he trash talked after a blocked shot. Arkansas cut MU’s lead to nine points, but struggled to get closer. Missouri went into halftime up 46-36 with just four turnovers.
“Jeremiah doesn’t have to score to impact the game,” Puryear said. “His presence alone impacts the game. At his position, he believes he’s the best. I think he approaches every game of that.”
Tilmon missed Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M after undergoing emergency oral surgery on Wednesday to get all four wisdom teeth pulled. He said the two lower teeth were infected.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore continued to be Missouri’s offensive focal point in the second half, but MU struggled to contain Isaiah Joe, who sliced away at the Tigers’ lead along with Osabuohien.
Missouri got clumsy on offense, committing shot-clock violations and turnovers by simply dropping the ball out of bounds. Martin switched to a four-guard lineup to help preserve the Tigers’ lead.
“I wasn’t gung-ho about it,” Martin said of the lineup change. “It’s what we needed to do. We felt like they had an advantage when they were smaller. If Mark (Smith) was here, then I’d feel better about it.”
With Arkansas trailing by four, walk-on Ronnie Suggs hit a corner three with five minutes left that put MU up 70-63. Gafford continued to keep the Hogs within two possessions, as MU failed to draw his fourth foul and repeatedly sent him to the free-throw line.
Joe’s three with three minutes remaining cut Missouri’s lead to two but Pinson and Suggs responded with a pair of floaters. Joe had a big second half for Arkansas, scoring 13 of his 17 points. Gafford’s dunk with 11 seconds left cut MU’s lead to one.
With 10 seconds left, Anderson said he was hoping to have one of his players draw a foul or drive to the basket. Martin was anticipating a lob to Gafford, which had worked the play before. Tilmon stopped Jalen Harris before he could get to the basket.
“We felt like they would probably come back to that play,” Martin said. “We felt like the time would be an advantage for us.”
Missouri’s next game is at Mississippi on Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. and the game will air on the SEC Network.