Geist passes torch in season-ending loss

A 25-point performance by senior Jordan Geist was closely trailed by a 20-point game from freshman Torrence Watson.
Torrance Watson guards a UT-Arlington player on Tuesday, Dec. 4 2018.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On his last 3-point attempt as a Missouri Tiger, Jordan Geist took a step back from fellow senior Kevin Puryear and sent the ball over his head.

The shot hit the rim and bounced left, into the hands of Auburn senior Horace Spencer.

Missouri was down 8 points with only 30 seconds left and Geist was brought to the bench by coach Cuonzo Martin after grabbing his second foul just seconds later.

Although Geist missed the last shot of his collegiate career, his performance in Missouri’s season-ending 81-71 loss to Auburn served as a passing of the torch to some of his younger teammates, particularly freshman Torrence Watson.

“When you see the combination of Geist and then Watson, you see sort of the torch being passed,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Puryear, Geist; those guys beat us in here a couple years ago and now they got some young players. That torch will be passed.”

Geist hit back-to-back triples in the opening four minutes of the game to give Missouri its first points away from the charity stripe. The point guard, who’s made 65 3s this season, shot 50 percent in the first frame and scored 13 points.

Watson also found his shot from behind the arc in the first half, adding two triples. Wednesday afternoon’s tournament-opener against Georgia was the first time Watson didn’t sink a 3-pointer since Jan. 26 against LSU.

“Getting more confidence, and then getting in the gym and shooting more,” Watson said of his improvement over the season. “Coach [Martin] always talks about the work that you put in is gonna show on the floor.”

Seven minutes into the second half, Geist stole the ball at midcourt, catching Auburn off-guard. He hit an uncontested triple to cut Auburn’s lead to 2 points, down from 10 just a minute earlier. While Geist kept up his work from behind the arc during the second frame, Watson improved his own.

Watson hit a 3-pointer off of an assist from freshman guard Xavier Pinson at the 7:06 mark to end a 4:11 Missouri scoring drought. On the Tigers’ next possession, Watson drew a foul from senior Malik Dunbar and added 2 points from the stripe to bring Missouri within 4 points of Auburn.

Watson led Missouri in the second half, scoring 14 points and sinking 4-of-6 triples. Geist added 12 points in the frame, hitting just 2-of-5 attempts from behind the arc.

“I think these last couple games, our confidence has really grown, especially with the young guys coming in. I thought we were just taking what they were giving us and shooting the ball with confidence.”

Geist and Watson finished with a combined 45 points, including 11 3s. They both added three rebounds as well, and led the team in minutes played.

“[Watson] has more [talent] than Geist, but Geist proved that it doesn’t matter how high you jump, or how fast or what your physique looks like,” Martin said.

Geist concludes his time at Missouri with a career 942 points, half of which came in his senior season. He’s added 370 rebounds and 255 assists as well.

“I didn’t start off caring for Jordan Geist very much when he first started competing,” Pearl said. “He was sort of one of those players that, if he was on your team, you love him, but if he was on the other team, he bothered you. I’ll congratulate him on a great career.”

Martin had praise for his senior as well.

“Geist has done a tremendous job in his will to compete, his will to win,” Martin said. “He’s not phased by the stage, the atmosphere or the opponent. He actually embraces those challenges.”

Watson hit 53 triples and scored 226 points in his freshman season. He collected 49 rebounds, 17 assists and six steals across 31 games.

“[Watson’s] fearless,” Pearl said. “He’s got guts. He sees it, he can shoot it, he’s got good size. Most of those young freshmen were highly recruited kids and they’re gonna continue to get better.”

“Those young freshmen” Pearl is referring to include Watson, Pinson and guard Javon Pickett. Pinson had 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in the tournament. Pickett played 47 minutes and had eight rebounds and four assists after sitting out Missouri’s final regular season game last Saturday with back spasms.

“[Pickett’s] a fighter,” Martin said. “He’s probably the guy who’s most upset, frustrated – whatever word you wanna look for – because he couldn’t give what he needed to give. He’ll be better because of these last couple games.”

The Tigers have also been without sophomore guard Mark Smith since Feb. 19 against Kentucky. Smith injured his ankle on Jan. 23 against Arkansas and sat out six games before returning to play 14 and 21 minutes in games against Ole Miss and Kentucky, respectively. He was then benched again and underwent surgery on his ankle on March 4.

His return next season, as well as the debut of Evansville transfer Dru Smith, who was forced to redshirt this year, will make for a promising starting lineup.

“If you’re healthy, you’re just as good as anybody else in the league,” Martin said.

Although Missouri rostered four seniors this season, Geist and Puryear will be the biggest losses for MU next season. Together, they’ve appeared in a combined 4,375 minutes wearing the black and gold.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” Martin said. “Two high-character guys. Two guys who work hard. Parents did a tremendous job giving them a balance of sports and life.”

However, despite the loss of his experienced players, Martin doesn’t seem concerned about the handing over of the reigns to his younger guys.

“They grew up,” Martin said. “Those guys learned some tough lessons, but they became better because of it.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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