Notebook: Missouri, Mark Smith struggle in first half, rebound in second

The junior was 1-7 shooting during the opening half.
Mark Smith reaches for the basket during Friday night's exhibition win over Central Missouri. Smith had 10 points in the game, but struggled in the first half. Photo by Andrew Moore

Mark Smith — who led the Southeastern Conference in 3-point percentage last year — only hit one triple in the opening half of Missouri’s 80-56 win over Central Missouri on Friday night.

It wasn’t just Smith whose first half performance was subpar though. The majority of the 10 players coach Cuonzo Martin played struggled as well, and the Tigers went into halftime trailing by one point to the Division II Mules.

Defensively, while Mark Smith and Dru Smith did nab five rebounds and four steals respectively, the Tigers also gave up 18 points off turnovers.

“It was kind of rough in the first half,” Dru Smith said. “I think I probably turned it over three or four times. I was definitely a little nervous, a little excited. Just everything to kind of get back out there in front of everybody. But I think I was kind of able to settle in in the second half and just play more to how I should.”

The second half fared much better for both Smiths and the rest of the team. Mark Smith brought his point total to 10, adding another 3-pointer and four points from the charity stripe. Dru Smith had another two steals and finished with seven assists and 8 points.

Overall, Missouri shot 47.5% and had just 13 turnovers, only two of which came in the second half. Despite being down at halftime, the Tigers led for 32 minutes of the game.

“I was gonna say, lot better in the second half,” Martin said. “We just made the necessary adjustments for the second half.”

Brown leads team in first game as Tiger

Freshman Kobe Brown led Missouri’s offense with 12 points in his first appearance and start for the Tigers, along with five rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.

He scored 9 of his points behind the arc.

“It feels pretty good,” Brown said. “I don’t know, I just came out there and played with my teammates, they got me the ball and I just did what I needed to do.”

Brown was a 4-star recruit according to ESPN and averaged 24.1 points per game during his senior year at Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama. As a junior, he was the Alabama Class 5A Player of the Year, and was a finalist as a senior for the same Class 6A honor.

“I thought he was solid,” Martin said. “He’s one of those guys that can do a lot of things. Dribble, pass and shoot.”

Behind Brown, sophomores Torrence Watson and Javon Pickett each scored 11 points. Pickett started 31 of 32 games last season, missing Missouri’s second-round SEC Tournament loss to champion Auburn with a back injury. He played the most minutes last season out of all of this year’s returners.

Last season, Watson broke the Missouri freshman record for most 3-pointers in a season, hitting 53 from behind the arc. He finished with 226 points on the season.

Tilmon’s trouble with fouls returns

Jeremiah Tilmon may have some new faces on the court with him this season, but at least he has one constant: foul trouble.

The junior had four fouls and three turnovers in Friday’s game. He didn’t seem concerned though.

“I can’t let a foul determine my game,” Tilmon said. “I feel like that was me freshman and sophomore year. I would get three fouls and I’d come back in the game and not even want to play as hard cause I feel like I’m gonna get a foul. But now it’s just like ‘I got a foul, I’m gonna keep playing hard.’”

Excluding halftime, three of Tilmon’s fouls came in a three minute period, with two just before halftime and the third almost immediately after. All three were offensive.

Tilmon has historically struggled with fouls, accumulating 121 in his freshman season and 111 during his sophomore year. He fouled out 10 times in both seasons.

Injury Update

At the close of Missouri’s 2018-19 season, a couple key players were nursing injuries that would take the offseason to fully recover from. Mark Smith sprained his ankle at the end of January and was out for the season, and Pickett sat out the Tigers’ final game with a back injury. Both returned to the court Friday, with Pickett in the starting lineup.

“One thing I think [Mark’s] done a great job: he has his body in shape for a guy to be out that long… so I don’t think that’s a fact,” Martin said.

Among the new players, junior transfer Axel Okongo is the only one to have been hindered by injury this season. He had been inactive at practice with turf toe, but Martin confirmed he is “fine.”

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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