By Aidan Johnson
Nashville, TN — If the Missouri Men’s Basketball Team could have an overarching theme attached to them this season, it would be close games. On Thursday night that continued as the Tigers opened the SEC Tournament with a nail-biting 73-30 win over the Georgia Bulldogs.
The start to the postseason was a rocky one for Mizzou, to say the least. They often found themselves on the positive side of a big run, but they also were on the wrong end of just as many big runs too.
Despite the up and down game, they were still able to close out when it mattered and pull off a massive win at a point in the season where it’s win or go home. This was largely in part due to the fact that 63 of the Tiger’s 73 points were scored by their starters, with four of the five of them scoring 10 or more points.
“As a staff before games like this, we know guys are coming out with anxiety. Once we got settled in, it was a different basketball game and I’d like to think we will be better tomorrow,” explained Coach Cunzo Martin in the postgame.
Indeed, once the Tigers were able to settle into the game they were able to find their scoring touch and extend their SEC postseason hopes. Xavier Pinson led the way for Mizzou with 17 points, Kobe Brown and Dru Smith each added 16, and Jeremiah Tilmon contributed 10 points as well.
However, despite the balanced scoring performance of the Tiger offense, they lost their scoring touch for the last 6:24 of the game. Over that span, they shot 0-6 from the field, and their nine points all came from the free-throw line.
“I think we just have to win the game. We are who we are at this point. We just gotta find a way to win the game,” Martin commented on the lack of scoring down the stretch.
Mizzou did find the way to win the game and very characteristically it came due to their defensive play. The Tigers totaled 13 steals over the course of the game, turning them into a total of 19 points. The biggest defensive play though came after a timeout by Missouri with 1:16 left in the game. Strong defense at the rim forced a missed shot from Sahvir Wheeler, giving Mizzou a much-needed stop.
“We just had to get a stop. We were up three and knew we did not want to give up a three. We had to lock-in,” Dru Smith told the press.
For Georgia, despite the late rally, they fell just short of beating Missouri for the second time this season and playing spoiler to the Tigers SEC run. The Bulldogs were just as streaky as the Tigers, often going long stretches without scoring and then following that up with a huge run.
They were led by Sahvir Wheeler who scored 14 points while also adding 13 assists to an already impressive offensive night. The Bulldogs also received a double-double from Toumani Camara who had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Tomorrow marks a big day for the Missouri Men’s team. They will be looking to win against the #8 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks who they have beaten, but also lost to this season. That game will be played at 6 pm once again in Nashville, with the Tigers looking to cement their spot as a team to watch for in the NCAA Tournament that begins next Thursday. You can catch that broadcast on 88.1 FM or on the KCOU website at kcou.fm.
Edited by Emma Moloney