Pickett’s grit propels Missouri against UCF in second-half run

The freshman guard had 13 points and a team-high three assists while making his presence felt with scrappy defensive plays.
Missouri forward Javon Pickett (4) puts his finger in the air in celebration after hitting a three point shot in regulation during Missouri's 64-62 win over UCF on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018 at Mizzou Arena

Javon Pickett faced a one-and-one late in overtime with a 2-point lead. He didn’t get to take the second foul shot.

Pickett could have moped after missing the crucial, front-end free throw at the tail end of overtime, but instead he followed his shot, knocking the ball out of the hands of Aubrey Dawkins and forcing a loose ball.

The ensuing scramble sucked time off the clock, forcing a last-second deep three that bounced harmlessly off the rim at the buzzer, giving Missouri a 64-62 overtime win over Central Florida at Mizzou Arena.

The play was a microcosm of Pickett’s performance – not pretty or perfect, but stuffed with effort and aggressiveness. That approach is why Cuonzo Martin has given Pickett a consistent starting spot, and it’s that approach that set the tone for Missouri’s second half comeback to force overtime Sunday.

Pickett’s effort helped fuel dominant play from Jeremiah Tilmon and a clutch shot by Jordan Geist at the buzzer to overcome an 8-point deficit.

“Javon’s not afraid out there,” Martin said. “Javon is going to compete. The growth of a freshman basketball player to help and recover, to close out on a guy. His guy made big shots but I thought he did a great job carrying out his assignments. That’s growth for a young guy and I think he can take that moving forward.”

The clutch shot by Geist at the end of regulation bailed out Pickett, who couldn’t inbound the ball with 15 seconds left down 1, with a five-second call giving UCF another possession where it looked like they could ice the game. But the mistake down the stretch didn’t overshadow what Pickett did to get Missouri within striking distance in the first place.

The freshman guard struggled in the first half, shooting 2-for-9 from the field, but he never wavered after the break.

“When I was missing, my teammates kept telling me to keep shooting,” Pickett said. “They kept giving me momentum to shoot and play good defense.”

Pickett continued to be aggressive, driving into the lane to try to open up the offense against the 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, whose intimidating presence had kept the Tiger offense bogged down and passing the ball back and forth on the perimeter.

“Coach said one of the keys was getting in the lane,” Pickett said. “We can pass it out and get open shots, so just trying to get to the lane as hard as we can to make the right plays was a big key for us.”

Pickett threw up a floater toward the outstretched arms of Fall that forced a goaltend from the mammouth center. The goaltending call was an ugly 2 points, but it started a 15-3 run with Pickett at its center. The next possession, he would find Tilmon for a layup that pulled Missouri within 1 before getting a steal on the next UCF possession.

Pickett’s steal set himself up for a triple from the wing that give Missouri it’s first lead of the second half, a 33-31 advantage with 15:39 left.

After Aubrey Dawkins answered Pickett’s triple, he answered with a gritty possession that ended with another bucket. He missed a 3 but gobbled up a loose ball for the offensive rebound before hitting a layup to give the lead back to the Tigers.

Pickett added a steal and fed Geist on the other end for a triple that ended the run and gave Missouri a 41-34 lead with 13:35 remaining.

“When my teammates lift me up I want to lift them up too,” Pickett said. “So when they lifted me up, that felt good when I was able to play well.”

UCF made another run and Pickett’s aggressiveness was needed again. With the game tied at 48, Pickett took a pass from Kevin Puryear and drove into the lane before floating a shot over the outstretched arms of Fall and the other UCF defenders. It fell into the basket and gave Missouri the lead with 5:20 remaining.

And after Pickett’s scored 9 of his 13 points in the second half, his defense was on display down the stretch. He had his hands full most of the night with the Michigan transfer Dawkins. Dawkins scored a game-high 22 points but after hitting a triple with 7:47 remaining, he didn’t make a field goal the rest of the night.

“My coaches kept telling me how to play it, so I just started to listen to them and after he hit a couple shots I really keyed in,” Pickett said. “I was just trying to make him run into my chest, and my teammates did a good job helping me out. It was trying to trail him and get high hands on his jump shot because I knew he was going to shoot it.”

Pickett kept Dawkins in check in the game’s final minutes, only allowing one shot attempt – which bounced harmlessly off the back iron. Pickett also drew an offensive foul on Dawkins on the Knights second possession in overtime, setting up Geist to give Missouri a 3-point lead with another clutch 3.

Pickett finished with two steals in the second half and finished with a team-high three assists to go with three rebounds, filling up the stat sheet in a team-high 40 minutes. Pickett showed his grit as a role player and looks to have locked down a starting role with Geist, Mark Smith, Puryear and Tilmon.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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