Behind Jeremiah Tilmon, Tigers trounce Xavier, 71-56

Tilmon led Missouri with a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon (focus) watches his shot go up in a 68-55 win over Central Arkansas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at Mizzou Arena. Tilmon finished the game with 16 points and 4 offensive rebounds.

Jeremiah Tilmon walked to the bench and looked up at the Mizzou Arena jumbotron with 1:36 left on Tuesday night.

Instead of finding a seat on the bench due to fouling out late, Tilmon saw a career-high line on the scoreboard: 23 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.

The sophomore, whose career has been riddled with foul trouble and inconsistent play, was an absolute force on Tuesday night.

He exited to the sounds of a standing ovation, as he led Missouri (7-3) to arguably its most complete performance of the season and its fourth straight victory, a 71-56 win over Xavier (7-5).

Coach Cuonzo Martin said Tilmon can continue to perform at this level without foul trouble, and that there is still more to come from his big man.

“I think there is still another level for him,” Martin said. “He is not a selfish basketball player so Jeremiah, he scores 23 points because he is talented. When he gets in his mind, ‘I can score 40’ that’s a different mental approach and I think once he gets that, he’s a different level of player.”

Tilmon feels the game has slowed down for him in his second season and looks to have settled in over the past month, scoring in double figures and registering three double-doubles in his last five games.

“I feel more confident because last year I would catch the ball and initially try to make a move without looking at who’s coming,” Tilmon said. “Now [when] I catch the ball, I’m trying to make sure it’s clear before I put the ball on the ground and [I’m] waiting to see if there is anyone open to pass it to. I’m just making sure I’m playing more poised and calm.”

Tilmon started the game by pausing after receiving an entry pass and waiting to see the space the defense would provide.

When Tilmon was left with only one defender, he muscled through the Xavier defense for a bucket plus the foul for 3 points on the Tigers’ first possession.

But Tilmon’s dominance wasn’t just in the paint, he led the Missouri defense by being active in help and blocking off drives for Xavier’s guards and wings. He registered two steals and a block on the defensive end.

Tilmon picked the pocket of Xavier guard Paul Scruggs on the left wing and flashed some athleticism with a coast-to-coast layup with 10:54 left in the first half.

The next possession, the 6-foot-10 forward chased down a missed shot in the corner and found Jordan Geist as he was falling out of bounds to set up a Mark Smith triple that capped a 17-0 Missouri run.

Tilmon then received the ball in the post and when he was finally given more than one-on-one attention, the forward split the defense and found a cutting Javon Pickett for a backdoor layup that gave Missouri a 22-11 lead.

Outside of Tilmon, the offense was cold at the start of the game, shooting 1-for-7 from the field before catching fire in the middle of the first half.

Xavier Pinson fed Kevin Puryear for a corner 3 late in the shot clock before Pinson picked Scruggs’ pocket for a layup on the next possession to give Missouri a 10-9 lead with 12:58 left in the first.

The quick 5-point swing started a stretch of eight straight made field goals that pushed the Missouri lead to 11.

Pinson continued to provide a spark off the bench with five assists and six rebounds. The freshman broke the Xavier press for consecutive assists in the second half, the first being a bounce-pass that sliced through the defense and set up a slam for Tilmon with 9:40 left in the second half.

Missouri coasted to a win after the half behind stout defense. The Tigers forced 17 turnovers and the Musketeers only shot 38 percent from the field. Missouri led by as many as 29 before the game ended, but Xavier pulled within 20.

Smith and Geist each added 13 points to go with Tilmon’s performance. Smith continued his hot shooting with a 3-for-7 performance from behind the arc. He leads the team with 25 made 3s and is shooting 47 percent from behind the arc.

“Whenever he shoots a 3-ball I expect it to go in,” Martin said. “Similar to Kash [Robertson] when they shoot, I expect it to go in because [Smith] puts the time into it.”

K.J Santos was back in street clothes with a foot injury after making his debut on Dec. 7 against Oral Roberts. Freshman Christian Guess was also unavailable and wasn’t on the bench for the second-straight game after dropping a class two weeks ago, which put him under the number of credit hours required to suit up.

Missouri will take the momentum from Tuesday night into St. Louis for the Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois on Dec. 22. Illinois fell to Xavier 83-74 on Nov. 21.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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