MU post play under-performs in Tilmon’s absence

The Tigers were out-rebounded 34-25 and outscored in the paint 30-20 in Saturday’s loss.
Missouri center Jeremiah Tilmon (focus) watches his shot go up in a 68-55 win over Central Arkansas on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 at Mizzou Arena. Tilmon finished the game with 16 points and 4 offensive rebounds.

Reed Nikko looked dismayed.

At 4:39 in the second half of Saturday evening’s matchup with Texas A&M, the junior forward’s number was called for a shooting foul. His fifth and final foul took him out for the remainder of the game.

Normally, it’s no Nikko, no problem for MU. Even without sophomore forward Jontay Porter, the Tigers’ short-staffed post presence still has options. Senior forward Kevin Puryear is always dependable and sophomores K.J. Santos and Mitchell Smith are 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-10 respectively, providing height and length if need be.

Then, of course there’s sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon, the team-leading shot blocker and rebounder. The 6-foot-10 forward was ready to roll, right? Well, Tilmon – who hadn’t missed a game in his career before Saturday – had his wisdom teeth removed this week and was out for the game.

Nikko’s final foul meant the absence of a true big man and it all but sealed Missouri’s (11-11, 2-8 SEC) fate in Saturday’s 68-59 loss to Texas A&M (9-13, 2-8 SEC).

“Fortunate for us, Tilmon didn’t play,” Texas A&M coach Bill Kennedy said. “He’s such a load and a big factor for them.”

Tilmon, who allegedly had the removal on Wednesday, hasn’t practiced since the Tennessee loss on Tuesday. It made him a game-time decision Saturday.

“There’s a void in there when Jeremiah’s not in there because he’s a part of what we do,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Not to make an excuse of it, that’s what it is.”

The East St. Louis product played in 54 games previous to Saturday, starting in all of them. He has a career average of 21.4 minutes per game. He was also on a tear heading into the home matchup with the Aggies.

Over his last five games, he was averaging 13.2 points, 4 more than his career average. Texas A&M was also missing its top big man – 6-foot-9, 244-pound Josh Nebo. The absence of Nebo, who averages 2.4 blocks per game, could’ve made for a field day from Tilmon. Instead, the Aggies and Tigers both had to resort to secondary post options.

“It would’ve really been tough because Josh is a really good defender,” Kennedy added postgame. “So really, we’re fortunate he [Tilmon] didn’t play.”

However, Nikko’s night certainly wasn’t abysmal. He set a new career–high with 8 points and tied his career-high in blocks. Martin approved of his performance postgame.

“He did a good job offensively,” Martin said. “A couple times, we put him in bad spots with passes. I always respect Reed’s work. Whether it’s five or four or 20 minutes, he’s going to give you his best work.”

Outside of Nikko, the Tigers didn’t get a lot of help down low. The options of Puryear, Santos and Smith combined for 4 points in the paint and eight rebounds, with Puryear carrying the bulk of those totals at 4 points and seven rebounds. Martin pointed to post play troubles stemming more from a lack of production than depth.

“Anytime you’re switching, switching your guards on forwards – Kevin, K.J., Mitch – you feel like there has to be an advantage somewhere,” Martin said. “Make them double, put the ball at the rim and, if anything, get the offensive rebound and that didn’t happen.”

The final statline? It showed Missouri was out-rebounded 34-25 and outscored in the paint, 30-20.

Freshman guard Torrence Watson mentioned after the game that the team figured it’d be “3 to 5 days” until they had Tilmon back, so it’s likely to assume he will return for MU’s matchup with Arkansas on Tuesday. But until the Tigers know for sure what they’re getting, it’s evident they need other guys to fill Tilmon’s void.

“We just still gotta go out there and compete with whoever, whatever we have,” guard Javon Pickett said. “Can’t make excuses.”

Edited by Anne Clinkenbeard | aclinkenbeard@themaneater.com

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