Missouri tops South Carolina, 78-63

Torrence Watson poured in a career-high 20 points to lead Missouri.
Missouri guard Torrence Watson cuts to the paint in the second half of the MU vs. South Carolina men's basketball game on Saturday, March 2 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

Open on the wing, Torrence Watson called for a pass, then spotted up.

After a miss 20 seconds earlier, the freshman guard wouldn’t be deterred from letting go another attempt from 3-point range.

“I was really feeling it tonight and my teammates were giving me the ball,” Watson said. “I was like, ‘If you guys are going to get me the ball in the right spot, then I’m gonna knock them down for you.’”

Watson buried the triple with 4:34 to go to give the Tigers an 8-point lead. His increased confidence lead to a career-high 20 points that carried Missouri (13-15, 4-12 SEC) to a 78-63 win over South Carolina (14-15, 9-7 SEC) and snapped a four-game losing streak.

“He was out there hooping,” sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon said. “I could see it in his eyes. He was clapping. I could hear the clap so loud. He wanted the ball and he got his confidence up and he got going.”

Watson continued hitting his outside shots, but he was quiet for the beginning of the second half after two first-half 3s. With 12:34 left, he began showing more aggression, muscling through the paint for an and-1 to give Missouri an 11-point lead. He finished another and-1 to give Missouri a 58-48 lead with 7:35 to go.

“He’ll get better at it,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He used to fall down a lot when he made that move and right now he’s strong with it.”

Watson, who came into Missouri as a heralded recruit who averaged 31 points per game as a high school senior, has been adjusting to a spot-up shooting role so far this season.

He made two daggers from behind the arc in 52 seconds to stop a final South Carolina run that brought the Gamecocks within 4 points with 5:26 to go. He caught a pass from junior Reed Nikko before nailing a triple from the wing. He then canned another 3 with 4:34 to go. He shot a promising 4-for-9 from behind the arc, and 14 of his 20 points coming in the second half.

“I still don’t think he’s shooting it as prolific as he could,” Martin said. “There is still time, experience and age where you get to the point where every time he shoots the ball you think it’s going in.”

Martin compared Watson’s potential with former All-SEC guard Kassius Robertson and sophomore guard Mark Smith, who shot 45 percent from 3 this season. He also said Watson can add another dimension to his offense as a driver.

“I don’t think [Watson] is at that level yet but he does have the ability not only to shoot it but to drive it,” Martin said.

Watson was one of the players who picked up slack for Tilmon, who only played 20 minutes Saturday due to foul trouble. Nikko also filled in with a spark off the bench, totaling 8 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes.

Nikko grabbed an offensive board and then twirled around the South Carolina defense before throwing down a slam with 2:28 left in the first half to give Missouri a 29-25 lead at the half.

“We know he can do that,” Tilmon said. “On the dunk, I pictured it, when he pump-faked and turned I jumped into the air, because I saw the dunk coming.”

Tilmon wasn’t the only big in foul trouble. He battled with South Carolina big man Chris Silva for most of the afternoon and both players were stuck to the bench with foul trouble. Tilmon played 20 minutes while Silva fouled out after only 15 minutes on the floor.

While both were on the court, it was a back-and-forth battle. Silva scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting while Tilmon scored 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

The biggest difference between the two was on the boards, where Tilmon shined and Silva struggled. Tilmon finished with 8 rebounds while keeping Silva from registering a rebound in his time on the floor.

“[Silva] was disengaged,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “He was not in the right place and I have no idea why.”

Senior forward Kevin Puryear also provided a scoring spark with a season-high 18 points. He scored 6 points in the final 1:44 to ice the game for the Tigers, bouncing back in a big way after struggling for most of conference play.

Next, Missouri travels to Athens, Georgia to take on Georgia (10-18, 1-14 SEC) at 5:30 on Wednesday.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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