The Maneater

Column: It’s time for Jeremiah Tilmon to overcome his problem with fouls

Mizzou is 5-6 this season in games when Tilmon has four or more fouls.

Jeremiah TIlmon rises to the basket against Iowa State on Nov. 10, 2017.

As Auburn’s Bryce Brown stepped to the foul line 30 seconds into the second half following freshman Jeremiah Tilmon’s third foul, all eyes in Mizzou Arena were on the 10 feet between the Missouri bench and the scorer’s table.

Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin was the only thing standing between the two. He made no signal to the bench.

Missouri’s deflating 91-73 loss to Auburn on Wednesday night was filled with head-scratching moments, none more so than the decision to keep Tilmon in the game after he picked up his third foul in three minutes spent on the floor.

Not long after, it was four fouls in four minutes.

“You know the end result, so why not?” Martin bleakly rationalized after the game. “At some point you’ve got to play and go through with it, because he has to learn and try to fight through it. That’s why I kept him out there. The worst case scenario was he fouls out of the game.”

Auburn went on a scorching 20-2 run midway through the second half to punch out Missouri’s hope after being within 2. Tilmon filled his seat on the bench the whole time. He was there too in the first frame, while the nation’s No. 19 team stretched its lead to 9 in what would eventually become a rout.

“We completely lost control,” senior Jordan Barnett said.

Tilmon’s unmatched ability to foul is past the point of being a detrimental recurring problem for the Tigers. They have to live in constant fear whenever an opponent has the ball in the paint. For a team that is repeatedly swooned over for its front-court depth, it really doesn’t have much, unless sophomore Reed Nikko carrying the load counts.

Tilmon was one of the program’s highest-touted recruits in the offseason, and he has started every game this season ― yet his 18.5 minutes per game rank sixth on the team. He played seven Wednesday night, making it the fifth time he’s been in a game for 11 minutes or fewer.

He’s only played 20 minutes or more in half of Missouri’s games and has only reached 30 once.

“There’s definitely some thought to it,” Martin said when asked if he was considering not starting Tilmon to ease him in.

Meanwhile, anyone and everyone has exploited the phantom-esque presence of the Missouri center. Mizzou is a seven-loss team; it’s 5-6 in games when Tilmon records four-plus fouls. And Tilmon’s propensity for digging himself holes can rarely be pointed at officiating. His frustrated effort against Florida didn’t get much help, but what’s forgotten is that before those fourth and fifth calls, he got himself in trouble with three legitimate fouls.

More often than not, the problem is not that he fouls out (though he has been disqualified from six contests), but the timing of the first two or three fouls. More often than not, he doesn’t wait long to provoke whistles.

And more often than not, they’re not smart fouls.

Take Wednesday’s game. Blessed with a fresh start in the second half after waiting nearly an entire stanza on the bench, Tilmon wandered from the paint on Auburn’s first possession and jumped at a Brown 3-point attempt that was already contested.

Much like his three turnovers, it was a freshman play.

That just can’t be an excuse anymore.

“I said to him the other day ― it’s not the officiating, it’s you,” Martin said.

When the young talent out of East St. Louis was disqualified on seven hacks in a preseason scrimmage against Kansas, there was no end to the foul-prone jokes. That’s because the expectation was for it to be an easily fixable problem.

Twenty games into the season, there’s no sign of a fix.

“We’ve tried to talk to him,” junior Jordan Geist said. “You gotta calm him down when he gets that first foul.”

Tilmon is and will be one of Missouri’s most talented and crucial players, but he has fouled four or five times in four consecutive games, and five of the last six.

It’s time to learn self-restraint or be restrained to the bench.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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