The Maneater

No one has more right to brag than Jordan Geist

The senior scored 20 points to lead Missouri past Illinois for the first time in six years.

Missouri point guard Jordan Geist finds himself tangled up with Illinois guards Ayo Dosunmu (11) and Aaron Jordan in the first half of Missouri's 79-63 win over The Illini on Saturday, Dec. 22 2018 at the Enterprise Arena in St. Louis, Mo.

ST. LOUIS – The man who climbed over photographers on the baseline to grab the comically large mop transcended swagger for just a moment as he swabbed the deck. Jordan Geist cut the tension in front of a puzzled crowd moments after he established it. It was all part of a show, the sort of show that revitalizes a tired rivalry.

Geist wiped the floor with Illinois, then he wiped the floor in front of its bench.

And with an inspired 20-point performance not to be overcome by leg cramps, highlighted by an explosive sequence that sent St. Louis into a nostalgic frenzy, the MU senior who has enamored its fan base breathed life back into the Braggin’ Rights rivalry Saturday night. For that, no one deserves the right to brag more than him.

“Geist is our leader,” sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon said, “and he really likes to lead.”

Geist bragged and showboated – while playing the kind of game that justifies it – and helped Missouri reclaim those Braggin’ Rights over Illinois for the first time since 2012, 79-63. It was his last chance to hoist the trophy, and he got first dibs at the hardware after erasing the defeated memories that spanned his career in the game.

“You see teams deny, but [Illinois] totally denied to take away your offense, so you have to be able to make individual plays,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “So for us it was spending a lot of time making individual plays. Make shots, know where the pockets are to make 3-pointers. Geist had to be strong to make plays. Geist did a great job facilitating plays.”

Geist’s 20 points led Missouri. While he scored 9 of those in the second half, he was visibly bugged by tightness in his leg that Martin said surfaced after halftime. Geist migrated to strength coach Nicodemus Christopher to have his leg stretched during most dead balls and timeouts.

“That’s just toughness,” Martin said. “He did a good job fighting through it.”

More importantly, Geist single-handedly engineered the first-half furor that this year’s contest will be remembered for: a 9-2 run on back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in 57 seconds.

Before that godly barrage of shots, Missouri’s start was anything but smooth. If anything, it was reminiscent of last year’s dud when the Tigers fell behind by 20 points at halftime. This time, it was 12-4 Illinois in the blink of an eye behind lights-out shooting from sophomore Trent Frazier, who made his first five 3-pointers. Geist was guarding Frazier when he made the first pair of those shots.

“I just try to keep guys focused on every second of the game,” Martin said. “My gauge is right now.”

That’s the mentality that often echoes most in Martin’s approach. So he didn’t want Geist thinking about his slow start defensively, or the déjà vu it might have invoked. Recall Geist’s own Braggin’ Rights performance last year: seven minutes on the floor, zero points, four turnovers. Even Illinois coach Brad Underwood could recite those stats after the game a year later.

“I felt that Geist was the difference for them,” Underwood said. “The man who had four turnovers in seven minutes last year.”

But Geist has also been Missouri’s most reliable matchup for prolific scorers in the young Martin era, its most imposing on-ball defender. That’s how he earned his time as a junior after patiently waiting out the woes of the Kim Anderson tenure. With the ball in his hands, Geist raised concerns at times, but his defense was always enough to compensate.

Back in 2018, Geist had the ball in his hands when Missouri still trailed 15-12. The point guard crossed over and left his defender behind, creating space on the left wing to sink his first 3 and tie the game.

Illinois answered. Then Geist answered. His next trick was an equally flashy step-back 3 on the right wing. Missouri had its first lead since 2-0.

Then Geist, never quite done when it seems he is, corralled a loose ball at the other end. A holiday snowball of energy and anticipation grew with every dribble as he brought it up the floor, as though there existed an unspoken certainty among all 16,397 onlookers: Geist inevitably was going to pull up and attempt another 3.

“He had a heat check coming,” Frazier said.

Heat check, you say?

“Before it went in I jumped,” Tilmon said. “As soon as he shot it I jumped in the air. I knew it was gonna go in.”

Yeah, still hot.

“The whole bench got up, Coach Nic [Christopher] elbowing people,” freshman Javon Pickett said. “All you can do is scream and jump up and down.”

Missouri’s bench might have erupted onto the court even if Illinois hadn’t used a timeout. Fortunately for the Tigers, Underwood did, and Geist was swarmed with perhaps even more elation than after he hit a buzzer-beating 3 to send Central Florida to overtime last month.

That shot earned Geist the nickname “Big Kahuna” after he mistranslated his Spanish while talking about his confidence. His kahunas were massive from start to finish this time, from the moment he picked up a technical foul for jawing with a defender 88 seconds in.

The kahunas persisted as Geist took two charges in the first half; as he spontaneously picked up the mop and dutifully wiped the court; as he adjusted to Frazier to provide his patented stiff defense in the second half, despite his injury. Frazier was 5-for-5 on 3s in the first half before a half-court miss at the buzzer. He was 1-for-7 from outside after that.

“Part of Geist’s game, he’s gonna feel you out,” Martin said. “A couple times in the first half [Frazier] had open 3s, but he didn't have those in the second half.”

The Tigers were rewarded for Geist’s defensive patience when they finally broke free with a 24-7 run to end the game. Geist was rewarded for four years of patience with his first Braggin’ Rights win.

“He fought through it,” Tilmon said, “and stayed productive the whole time.”

When Missouri was again desperate for a basket in the second half, Geist answered the call. The Tigers had gone 3:30 without scoring and the lead was chipped to 53-50. The Illini faithful were louder than they had been all night. Geist grimaced while being treated during a timeout, then waved Martin off to return for Missouri’s next possession. He drove through traffic, jump-stopped under the basket, turned and swished a contested fader to snap the skid.

It was the kind of play Geist made all night. It was the kind of play he has become known for as a beloved senior at MU. Cramps are no big deal. He can clean up those kinds of minute problems with a mop.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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