Missouri tops Georgia 71-61 in opening round of SEC Tournament

Jordan Geist scored a career-high 30 points in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, one-third of which came from the charity stripe.
Missouri and Georgia run through pregame warmups underneath the jumbotron at Bridgestone Arena prior to the opening game of the 2019 SEC Tournament. The Tigers went on to top the Bulldogs 71-61, advancing them to the second round on March 11.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jordan Geist stepped to the charity stripe with 39 seconds left in the game. In the five minutes beforehand, 14 points had been scored on free throws from Missouri and Georgia.

Geist sunk both shots, and the pair of easy baskets brought the Missouri senior to 28 points, tying his career-high.

After a Georgia possession, Geist broke that tie with another pair of free throws off of a E’Torrion Wilridge foul to give Missouri a 10-point lead with just seconds remaining.

With both teams adding a combined 45 points from the charity stripe, Missouri (15-16, 5-13) defeated Georgia (11-21, 2-16) 71-61 in the opening game of the 2019 SEC Tournament. While the Tigers went 24-for-29 from the free throw line, the Bulldogs went 21-for-36.

“At the end of the day, the free throw shooting was the biggest difference,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said.

Geist finished the game with 30 points and five rebounds.

“Jordan’s a tremendous player,” Crean said. “He was tough to deal with.”

After abysmal 0-12 and 0-10 shooting from Missouri and Georgia behind the arc a week ago, both teams focused on interior shots. Neither team attempted a 3-pointer until seven minutes into the half, with Georgia junior Tyree Crump missing a 3-point attempt amidst a 2:28 Bulldog scoring drought. Missouri’s first attempt came from senior Kevin Puryear at the 11:20 mark.

Geist finally hit the first triple of the night off of an assist from redshirt sophomore Mitchell Smith, 10 minutes into the game. It was the only 3-pointer Missouri would make in the half, while Georgia finished with one each from junior Jordan Harris and freshman Amanze Ngumezi.

Geist led his team with 14 points at half. Freshman Xavier Pinson and junior Reed Nikko each had 6 points.

The Tigers ran into foul trouble early in the first half, with Pinson acquiring three fouls in only nine minutes on the court. Geist, Nikko and Tilmon all ended the half with two. Missouri had a total of 12 fouls in the first half, giving Georgia 12 points on free throws.

“When you watch him, [Pinson] has composure to him. Sometimes he looks like he’s sleep walking,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He has a demeanor that he’s locked into the game, he understands what’s going on, he’s not phased by the atmosphere of the stage or the situation.”

On the other half of the court, Georgia’s Harris led with 10 points, and sophomore Nicolas Claxton added 9 points, 5 of which came off of free throws. Claxton also had five of the Bulldogs’ six blocks in the half.

“He’s long, he’s athletic. [He impacts] the game in so many ways, it’s not necessarily points. It’s everything he brings to the table.”

Pinson kicked off shooting with a 3-pointer just 1:11 into the second half. Smith had a pair of jumpers shortly after to give Missouri a lead. A three-minute scoring drought ensued for both teams, until a triple by Harris gave the lead back to the Bulldogs.

Geist finally found his 3-point shot again with a long-range make with eight minutes left in the game. Including his triple, the senior added 16 points in the second frame.

Overall, Missouri shot 83 percent from the free throw line and 42 percent on field goals. The Tigers also scored 34 in the paint, and Pinson finished with 15 points despite foul trouble.

“Sometimes I go in there and it might look like I just throw it up, at least coach [Martin] thinks that,” Geist said. “But sometimes when you’re just in the gym by yourself you work on shots [in the paint].”

The foul trouble Missouri faced in the first half followed them to the second, but never became debilitating. Tilmon, Pinson and Nikko played on and off throughout the half, all with four fouls apiece. Redshirt junior Ronnie Suggs was the only Tiger to finish the game without a foul. He played just three minutes. Missouri finished the game with 21 fouls.

Georgia faced similar troubles. Claxton fouled out with only 2:58 left in the game after only having one foul at halftime. He added just 2 points and one block in the second frame to finish with 11 points. Senior William Jackson II also fouled out for the Bulldogs in the final minutes of the game after scoring 2 points and grabbing four rebounds.

Harris played the entire half with three fouls and added 16 points, finishing with a total 26 points. Senior Derek Ogbeide also added 12 points, including a dunk with 25 seconds left in the game.

Missouri will move to the second round of the tournament this afternoon where it will take on No. 5 Auburn. The black and gold Tigers fell to their orange and blue counterparts 92-58 when the two teams last met on Jan. 30.

“I think that we’ve just matured a lot,” Geist said of his team. “We’ve learned, been through some hard times, so I think that we just gotta come out and focus on playing our game. Stick to our principles on defense, get the kind shots that we want and we’ll put ourselves in a position to hopefully win the game.”

Tipoff is slated for approximately 2:30 p.m. CST after the conclusion of No. 9 Arkansas against No. 8 Florida.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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