As Xavier Pinson drove to the lane shortly before halftime in Missouri’s game against Ole Miss on Saturday, he converted a floater over a Rebels defender to extend MU’s lead.
That bucket started a run of 17 consecutive points from either Pinson or fellow freshman Torrence Watson that would carry into the second half of MU’s 73-68 loss to Mississippi to close out the regular season.
While MU honored seniors Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist before the game, a pair of players who will be remembered for sticking it out through the tough times and helping to establish Cuonzo Martin’s culture, the Tigers’ freshman guards were the talk of senior day.
While fellow freshman guard Javon Pickett missed the game because of back spasms, Watson and Pickett combined for 34 in the loss. Pinson had a career-high 20 points while Watson had 14.
“Those three young guards, they’re going to be something in our league,” Rebels coach Kermit Davis said. “They’re tough, they’re Cuonzo’s type of guys. They play downhill, they want to be coached. I love them.”
Pinson’s performance came on 8-for-12 shooting with six assists and just two turnovers (an issue for him all season). The 6-foot-2 guard from Chicago has shown flashes of being a dominant player throughout the year but has also forced shots when struggling and abused his gift of no-look passes, which occasionally go to the wrong team.
Martin said after the loss that it was probably Pinson’s best game at Missouri, but Pinson thought he left some defensive plays on the floor.
“We’ve been waiting for that,” Watson said of Pinson. “We’ve all seen that he can do that drive to the basket. His handles are crazy.”
Watson’s performance marked his fourth straight game in which he scored in double figures and showed the continued evolution of his offensive game, which early in the season amounted to little more than corner threes. He set the program freshman record for three-pointers in a season Saturday with 47.
When Missouri was trailing late in the game, Watson had a would-be game-tying three rim out in front of MU’s bench. He grabbed the rebound and took another three, which also rimmed out. While the shots didn’t go in, the attempts were further proof of Watson’s development. He was passive on offense early in the season and now wants to be the guy taking the big shots.
All three players have been known for their work ethic throughout the season, as Pickett gets up as early as 5 a.m. to start putting up shots, with Watson and Pinson joining him a few hours later.
Missouri blew its fifth double-digit lead of the season in Saturday’s loss, but Watson focused on the future when asked about the Tigers’ inability to hold leads as a potential problem down the road.
“I’m happy that freshman year we’re getting all these bumps out now,” he said.
On a day in which he was supposed to reflect on his career, Puryear went out of his way to talk about the future, knowing MU’s freshman trio will ultimately help define Martin’s tenure in Columbia.
“This core of freshmen we have their work ethic is phenomenal,” he said. “Mizzou fans really have a lot to be excited about.”