University of Missouri

Mizzou, Tilmon working on smart and aggressive defense as regular season starts

While Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin pointed out the good and bad from Friday’s exhibition win against Central Missouri, he said his team was too foul-happy.

Facing the Division II Mules, the Tigers were called for 15 fouls, though those resulted in just seven free throws.

For a coach who preaches defense, it’s a difficult world to navigate. Stay aggressive on defense, especially to make hustle plays. But at the same time, don’t get too forceful to the point officials are calling frequent fouls.

It’s a situation where he doesn’t want to take the “aggression” out of guys, Martin said.

Nobody on the team knows about that fine line of fouling and staying aggressive than Jeremiah Tilmon, the forward who has seen his fair share of foul trouble. While it’s a work in progress for him, he said it also comes down to concentration.

“It’s just me playing smart, honestly,” said Tilmon, who was chosen to the preseason all-SEC second team by the league’s coaches on Monday. “I can’t let fouls determine how hard I play. I’m going to always play hard.”

While Tilmon makes personal improvements, those teachings also spread to the Tigers. Guard Javon Pickett pointed out how they can be better at positioning to avoid fouls.

“The coaches preach every day to not foul, making sure that we’re playing the right defense at practice,” Pickett said. “That’s just got to carry over into the game. We’re trying to hustle every play of the game.”

The NCAA has enacted some changes in regards to fouls, including on flops. Late in the game against Central Missouri, the Mules were called for a flop warning.

While the Tigers toe the fine line between fouls and solid defense, Martin said sometimes it’s better to go back to the basics. Just go play basketball instead of making the game more “complicated.” MU hopes to limit the fouls when it faces Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena for the season opener.

“You want to be aggressive, you have to do it without fouling,” Martin said. “You want to be aggressive offensively, but take care of the basketball. You have to get back and do your job.”

Quick turnaround

After Wednesday’s season opener, MU gears up for its next game just two days after on Friday vs. Northern Kentucky at Mizzou Arena. Martin also said he enjoys Friday night games.

The games spaced out two days apart is similar to the structure of the NCAA Tournament, so there’s an added benefit.

“Guys understand the importance of getting rest,” Martin said. “Fresh legs, fresh mind. We say that all the time.”

Familiar foe

Martin and Incarnate Word coach Carson Cunningham know each other well, dating back to both their Purdue days. Cunningham was a senior during Martin’s first year as an assistant coach at Purdue.

“Great guy,” Martin said of Cunningham. “He’ll be where he needs to be.”

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