Missouri falters down the stretch, falls to Texas A&M

Missouri lost its second straight game with starters Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith out.
Missouri guard Javon Pickett attempts a shot in the second half of MU's 68-59 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, Feb. 9 2019. Skyler Navarro

Without two of its starters, Missouri still looked to be in business.

With sophomores Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon out, forward Reed Nikko stepped up while Missouri’s trio of freshman guards – Xavier Pinson, Javon Pickett and Torrence Watson – impressed in the first half to give Missouri an early 30-21 lead at the break.

But the wheels fell off of Missouri’s offense after the break as Texas A&M (9-13, 2-8 SEC) guards Wendell Mitchell and T.J. Starks took control down the stretch, handing Missouri (11-11, 2-8 SEC) a 68-59 loss on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.

Tilmon sat after an emergency wisdom teeth removal Wednesday while Smith missed his fifth-straight game with an ankle injury.

Mitchell finished with 20 points, 14 of which came in the second half, while Starks had 9 of his 15 points and all three of his assists after halftime.

“We couldn’t stop Starks and Mitchell,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I think the ball screen flowed between those two guys, they got the rim, or made the play, or made a basket and that was pretty much it.”

Watson hit a triple early to give Missouri a 12-point lead with 17:39 remaining in the first half, but the Tigers would be outscored 43-22 the rest of the way.

“Coach told us we let them get their head up out of the water and they kept going,” Watson said. “We gave them a chance and we should have put our foot down.”

Mitchell then scored 7 points in three minutes before coming out of nowhere for a putback slam that cut the lead to one with 8:56 to go.

Starks got a steal on the next possession and found sophomore forward Savion Flagg for a 3 to give Texas A&M a 46-44 lead with 7:21 left.

Senior guard Jordan Geist briefly gave the lead back to the Tigers with a contested 3 at the end of the shot clock, but a 16-3 Aggie run opened up a 61-50 lead with two minutes left that put the game away.

Texas A&M struggled offensively in the first half, but the Aggies shot 60 percent from the field in the second half and scored 47 points after the break.

“We’ve gotta go a better job of guarding,” Pickett said. “Not ifs and or buts about it, we’ve gotta do a better job of guarding.”

Pickett and Watson led the way offensively with 15 and 12 points, respectively. A Pickett slam on a fast break was the second of two buckets that gave Missouri an early 8-5 lead. Pinson also added four of his six assists in the opening period.

Nikko stepped in admirably for the injured Tilmon with 8 points, three rebounds and two blocks, but he fouled out in 19 minutes on the floor, leaving the Tigers without a big man to take advantage of the Aggies’ small lineup.

“They were switching four or five ways with guards on our bigs and we didn’t take it outside of Reed,” Martin said. “But our fours – Kevin [Puryear] and Mitch [Smith], K.J. [Santos] – we didn’t capitalize with that advantage.”

Without much of Nikko in the second half, Texas A&M used its small lineups to suffocate Missouri’s offense, which went through scoring droughts of 4:40 and 3:39 minutes in the second half and scored 17 points in the first 17:49 of the second half.

Next, Missouri looks to snap a two-game losing streak when it plays Arkansas (14-9, 5-5 SEC) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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