The Maneater

Mark Smith’s “pure stroke” dazzles in debut double-double

Smith made 16 3-pointers his freshman season at Illinois. He made five in his first game at Missouri.

Missouri guard Mark Smith boxes out CAU center Hayden Koval on a free throw during an eventual 68-55 win for the Tigers on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at Mizzou Arena.

Mark Smith expected to start the season sitting on the bench in street clothes, riding the pine while he sat through a redshirt season after transferring from Illinois.

But all that changed when Smith was granted a waiver to become eligible on Oct. 26.

A little over a week after being gifted immediate eligibility, Smith was thrown into the starting lineup and didn’t miss a beat, jump-starting a Missouri offense with 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 68-55 season-opening win over Central Arkansas.

Smith hit 5 of his first 7 3-pointers and led Missouri in scoring while being Missouri’s only source of outside shooting. The rest of the team shot a combined 3-for-18 from behind the arc.

“He’s been shooting the ball well,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He spends a lot of time on it and he’s also a pretty good driver. I’m not surprised because he is shooting well in practice.”

With the losses of Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson, the Tigers need a guard to pick up the scoring slack this season, and Smith was picked it up tonight.

Smith hit his first triple to break a 5-5 deadlock and then hit back-to-back 3s to give Missouri a 16-5 lead with 15:31 left in the first.

Smith came out firing in the second half too, hitting his first two 3s of the half on consecutive Missouri possessions.

“Man, his stroke is pure,” Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said. “He shoots the ball as well as I’ve seen from somebody in a long time.”

Smith’s stroke from behind the arc was a surprise from a player who made a grand total of 16 3-pointers last season.

A career-high five triples, nearly a third of last year’s total, showed a major improvement for a player who shot 23 percent from downtown in his one season with the Illini.

“Really I’m shooting a lot more,” Smith said. “In the summer when I came in that’s what I worked on a lot. I’ve always been a good shooter, but at Illinois — I don’t know how to explain it — I just couldn’t make shots.”

Smith also credited the new Missouri motion offense, which differs from the system he ran at Illinois.

“I’m pretty comfortable in it,” Smith said. “You can do a lot of things in it. Guys drive and kick out, we have an unselfish team and my teammates did a great job finding me tonight. This is the kind of offense I like and feel comfortable in.”

The guard from Edwardsville used his size on the defensive end to complete a double-double with a team-leading 10 rebounds, all on the defensive end, which was more than triple his old career-high of three.

“Mark’s not afraid to get his nose dirty,” Martin said. “That’s impressive to get 10 defensive rebounds.”

Smith showed he was more than a 3-point threat and used the dribble drive to draw a shooting foul and finish a layup on two possessions late in the second half to ice the game for the Tigers.

Without a whole lot of players who can create their own shot, Smith will have to use the dribble-drive to give the offense some life.

Smith will be tasked as being a second offensive option to Jeremiah Tilmon, who dominated inside and added 16 points. Tilmon will be doubled against most opponents, so he will need an outlet like Smith to space the floor and provide additional scoring.

Missouri looked dominant on the defensive end, but the offense looked stagnant. The loss of Jontay Porter showed for an offense that didn’t have any players who could create their own shot consistently.

Jordan Geist plays hard, but isn’t a strong offensive player and struggled from behind the arc, while the rest of the Tiger guards are freshman who had mixed results Tuesday night.

Martin implored players to drive more after Tuesday’s game, and Smith will need to be a dynamic ball-handler and use his athleticism to create shots off the dribble to open up the rest of the offense.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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