Pinson and Smith’s supporting roles lead Missouri to SEC Tournament win

Xavier Pinson scored 15 points while Mitchell Smith shot 3-for-3 from the field with three steals.
Missouri point guard Xavier Pinson waits for a play to develop in a game against LSU on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— With just under 10 minutes left in the game, momentum was swinging back and forth.

Missouri had been unable to shake Georgia for the entire second half. With both teams’ seasons on the line, Missouri had a chance to put the Bulldogs away with the ball up four.

Senior Kevin Puryear fed redshirt sophomore Mitchell Smith from the high post and Smith took one dribble before absorbing contact and finishing a layup plus the foul.

Sensing a momentum swing, Smith turned and flexed toward the Missouri bench. His teammates went into a frenzy as he chest-bumped Puryear.

Smith missed the free throw, but the layup punctuated a 6-0 run that gave Missouri a 6-point lead with 8:57 left and the momentum in its 71-61 win over Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night.

Freshman Xavier Pinson was another impact player. The first-year floor general scored 4 of Missouri’s first 8 points, controlling the tempo and finishing with 15 points.

Earlier in the season, Pinson struggled with turnovers, but he was a steadying presence in the backcourt Wednesday with only one turnover in 23 minutes.

“[Pinson] has composure to him,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Sometimes he looks like he's sleepwalking. But he has a demeanor to him where he's locked into the game, not fazed by the atmosphere, stage or situation.”

It was Jordan Geist’s night, as the senior poured in a career-high 30 points, keeping Missouri’s season alive. But no star is complete without a supporting cast, and the duo of Pinson and Smith provided to be more than capable co-stars.

Pinson’s early offense helped Missouri get out to a 16-11 lead with 11:48 left in the first half, but three quick fouls sent him to the bench after only playing nine minutes in the opening period.

With Pinson off the floor, Missouri lost its offensive rhythm and went down 34-32 at the half.

When he returned for the second half, Missouri was able to regain its offensive composure. The freshman hit an early triple to give Missouri a 37-35 lead with 18:49 left.

Georgia crawled its way back and with the game deadlocked at 39 points with 16:23 left, Smith hit two consecutive jumpers at the free throw line in the cushion of Georgia’s zone defense to give MU a 4-point lead.

“Mitch is probably the best guy when you're talking flashing through the zone,” Martin said. “He does a great job with that. That's his shot.”

After Smith’s 6-point spurt, he was able to shut down Georgia star Nicolas Claxton in the second half.

Claxton scored 11 in the opening period, but only had 2 points after halftime. Smith drew two charges on Claxton, putting him in foul trouble and forcing him off the floor for the game’s final 2:58 when Claxton fouled out.

With Georgia’s sophomore forward off the floor, Pinson and Missouri sunk late free throws to ice the game.

Pinson paired with Geist and drove inside the Georgia defense with ease, hitting a contested jumper with 3:58 to go and putting Missouri up 59-50. The shot squashed any hope of a comeback for the Bulldogs.

“He reads the defense, he makes plays,” Martin said. “He's really growing as a point guard.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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