Missouri snaps three-game losing skid, defeats Vanderbilt 77-67 in #RallyforRhyan game

Missouri won its second conference game behind 19 points and eight rebounds from sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon.
Missouri forward Jeremiah Tilmon high fives forward Mitchell Smith while at the free throw line in the second half of MU's fourth annual Rally for Rhyan game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers beat the Commodores 77-67.

Javon Pickett muscled through the paint for a bucket and the foul and on the next possession, he hit a 3 from the wing, giving a Missouri team in need of a win a fast start.

After the 6-point flurry from Pickett, Missouri (11-9, 2-6 SEC) didn’t look back and snapped a three-game losing streak with a 77-67 win over Vanderbilt (9-12, 0-8 SEC) at the fourth annual Rally for Rhyan game at Mizzou Arena.

The freshman guard led Missouri with 12 points before the rest of the Tigers picked up the slack.

Fellow freshman guards Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson both converted layups to open up a 10-6 Missouri lead. The first-year trio of Pickett, Pinson and Watson combined for 33 points, scoring 20 in the first half.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who’ve just got a lot of confidence from playing in a lot of games and it just helps us keep rolling,” senior point guard Jordan Geist said.

Watson showed more aggressiveness on the offensive end after a 10-point performance at Auburn earlier in the week. He hit two contested layups in traffic in the first half and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key for 7 first-half points.

Watson got the ball 25-feet from the basket as the shot clock was winding down before hitting a triple from NBA range as it expired, giving Missouri an 8-point lead with 3:30 to go. He finished with a career-high 12 points and Pinson was able to hit four free throws to ice the game down the stretch.

Missouri’s upperclassmen combined with the freshman and put together the team’s best offensive performance of conference play. The Tigers didn’t turn the ball over until Vanderbilt guard Saben Lee stole the ball from Geist with 6:08 left in the half. The 14-minute stretch was impressive for a team that turned the ball over 20 times in Wednesday's drubbing at Auburn. The Tigers finished today with 14 assists to a season-low nine turnovers.

The Tigers spread the ball around well in the first half with six first-half assists to four turnovers. Geist led the team with six dimes while senior forward Kevin Puryear added two himself. Both were nice passes from the high post that set sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon up with layups.

Geist got off to a slow start offensively with only 1 point in the first half, but he finished with 15 and made the play of the night by running down a 70-foot, length-of-the-court, outlet pass from redshirt sophomore forward Mitchell Smith before finishing a layup plus the foul.

“He did a great job controlling that game in the second half,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “Geist brings a lot of confidence to the floor and makes a lot of winning plays. As long as he’s on the floor, they’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games the rest of the season.”

After the feeds from Puryear, Tilmon took care of the Missouri offense down the stretch with 9 of his team-high 19 points in the first half, including a dunk that stopped an 8-0 Vandy run late in the first half before Missouri took a 38-27 lead at the half. Tilmon added eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

After a career-long bout with foul trouble, Tilmon hasn’t fouled out in any of his last three games and is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game over that stretch.

“It takes big guys time,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Everybody goes at their own pace and learns at their own time…He’s growing and it’ll continue to be a work in progress.”

Puryear had another rough shooting night, going 0-for-5 from the field, but serving as a catalyst on the defensive end for Missouri in the early going with a team-high 10 rebounds and a steal.

Puryear is in a cold stretch offensively and is shooting 1-for-15 from the field over his last three games. The senior only played six minutes in the second half and gave way to Watson and Smith, who scored 5 points with two rebounds, a block and a steal in 20 minutes.

Vanderbilt made one last push with an 11-0 run that brought the game within three before Smith nailed a catch-and-shoot triple to halt the run and put the Commodores out of reach for good with 10:04 left.

Next, Missouri travels to Knoxville to play No. 1 Tennessee (20 -1, 8-0 SEC) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. It will be Cuonzo Martin’s first game at Thompson-Boling Arena since he left as the coach at Tennessee in 2014.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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