By Michael Emami
Missouri men’s basketball flexed its muscles in yet another impressive victory at Mizzou
Arena Friday night. The game was slow paced, but the physicality of Mizzou’s defense heavily
impacted and hindered Northern Kentucky’s game strategy, as the Tigers got the better of the
Norse primarily in the second half.
With a 71-56-win, head coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers are now off to a 2-0 start in the 2019-2020 season, and he said there’s a lot of optimism surrounding his new squad.
“It was a good one,” Martin said postgame. “You have to schedule teams like this because with so many starters returning, and when you have a really good guard returning, it’s tough to go against.”
Northern Kentucky proved to be no pushover in the first half- forcing points off key turnovers. The Norse were able to muster 16 points off Mizzou’s giveaways throughout the game. In spite of Mizzou’s sloppiness, Martin’s team still lead the Norse by seven points after 20 minutes.
“The Defense, even when we struggled against the zone the first half, it was defense and
getting stops,” Martin said.
Getting those stops in key possessions against the Norse helped- so did out-rebounding them 39-28. Missouri forward Mitchell Smith provided the Tigers with much needed aid in the rebounding category, picking up 7 of his team’s 39 total. He also racked up 10 points in his 16 minutes of play within the game.
Jeremiah Tilmon, Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith, and Kobe Brown also contributed offensively, but the one name that stood out from the entire roster, was Mark Smith. Missing half of last season due to injury, Smith lead his team in points scored with 19, and drained 2-3 three-point attempts in under six minutes of play in the first half.
“They’ll play a matchup, zone, sometimes they’ll stay with a guy, sometimes they won’t cover him, and they identified Jerimiah (Tilmon),” Martin said. “They trapped Jeremiah in the zone, so really I would imagine looking at our numbers they probably said we’ll take our chances on you taking three point shots, and Mark (Smith) shot well.”
The strategy of the first-year NKU coach Darrin Horn was brilliant- especially considering how Missouri loves to thrive off points in the paint, particularly with Tilmon’s 6-foot-10, 260-pound frame. Smith came up huge, nonetheless.
After a scoreless season debut, questions surrounded how he worked his way back into the offense. Martin noted the adjustment of his recovery.
“I never worry about Mark’s shot I really didn’t because of the time he puts into it,” Martin said. “The biggest thing with me about Mark was trying not to get 7-8 months back in two days.”
Smith’s play Friday night elevated his team without question, but going forward,
Missouri must face the unique challenges put before them every year, particularly with how
exceptionally well Northern Kentucky’s Tyler Sharpe played in garnering his 18 points, many
others will be looking for holes in the Missouri defense to expose.
While two solid wins is a good start, there’s still progress to be made, as SEC play begins Jan. 4, and Martin’s team will look to pick up from where they left off. The Tigers will travel to Cincinnati and play No. 19 Xavier on Tuesday.
Edited by Garrett Jones | email@example.com