After taking an elbow to the nose against Colorado on Saturday, senior guard J.T. Tiller stepped onto the court at Mizzou Arena sporting the ever-fashionable plastic facemask. Although Tiller wore the facial accessory for all of 23 seconds, he made his presence felt all night Wednesday in a 65-56 win over Iowa State.
“It’s always nice to have a nice offensive night,” Tiller said. “But as long as we come out with the win, I’m not objecting to anything.”
The senior guard had a season-high and team-leading 17 points in the game. Tiller shot 5-of-10 from the field, including 1-of-3 from beyond the arc — not bad for a guy who came in having made 4-of-28 3-point attempts this season.
Tiller was not only scoring points, but dishing out assists, grabbing rebounds and being a pest on defense as usual.
“Just having a good offensive night is not something I base my good games on,” Tiller said. “Coming out there and getting deflections, or coming out there and getting steals, or coming out there and just doing something to help the team win is really what I base it on.”
Coach Mike Anderson has a similar viewpoint on his senior’s all-around game.
“It’s not about his offense,” Anderson said. “If you’ve watched this kid over the years, it’s not necessarily his offense. To me, it’s about his tenaciousness, I think it’s his energy, and I think it’s contagious to this basketball team. He’s showing the leadership with his play. And he was in attack mode tonight.”
Tiller picked a good night to step up. Iowa State played Missouri tough all night, never allowing the Tigers to gain much breathing room. But Tiller’s knack for making plays and veteran leadership helped Missouri earn the win.
“(J.T.) played huge,” sophomore guard Kim English said. “I was on the bench smiling, just thinking like ‘That’s the J.T. I’ve been waiting for.’ And he came through huge.”
The season has not been all smiles for Tiller. Dubbed by Anderson as the “heart and soul” of the Tigers, Tiller appeared to put a lot of pressure on himself to live up to those lofty expectations. Last year’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year moved away from the quick, cutting, blue-collar style of play that earned him recognition last year. He seemed to hit rock bottom in a four-point effort against Oklahoma on Jan. 16 when he did not make a basket until the final two minutes of the game.
Since then, Tiller has rebounded and is seeing more consistency in his game. On Wednesday, he showed the strong aspects of his all-around game.
“I think he put his imprint on this game again,” Anderson said. “We talked about the Colorado game and that’s what you want to see consistently from a senior. And J.T. is not one of those guys that tries to go get the game. I thought it came to him. He was attacking the basket, and he hit a big 3-point shot for us in the second half. He plays the game with confidence.”