Pinson, Nikko guide comeback as Missouri stuns Georgia

The Tigers rallied to come back from a 20-point deficit in the second half.
Mizzou guard Xavier Pinson floats a shot over the Georgia defense.

Xavier Pinson made his way into the lane on a crossover with under 30 seconds left. As Georgia’s defense collapsed, he kicked the ball out to Javon Pickett in the corner. Pickett swung to Mitchell Smith on the wing, and from the opposite spot that Torrence Watson had missed a potentially game-winning 3-pointer exactly one week earlier, Smith let a jumper of his own fly. The shot missed off the front iron, and landed briefly in Georgia’s Anthony Edwards' hands.

But Pinson was still underneath the basket.

“I don’t even know how to explain it, but I just kind of snatched it from him,” Pinson said.

The point guard poked the ball up, then wrestled it away from Edwards before muscling a shot off the backboard and into the basket. The layup gave Missouri (10-10, 5-2 SEC) a 71-69 lead, capping an improbable 20-point second half comeback over Georgia (11-9, 1-6 SEC) to snap a four-game losing streak. The final score was 72-69.

“I needed that to sleep a little better,” coach Cuonzo Martin said.

Pinson’s layup gave him his last two points in a brilliant second half that saw him score 16 on 4-8 shooting, including 7 in the last 4:30 while starting guards Mark and Dru Smith were either out or ailing from injuries.

“I knew that they wasn’t 100 percent,” Pinson said. “So somebody had to step up, and somebody had to do it for us today.”

Missouri still wasn’t quite out of the woods after Pinson’s layup, however. On Georgia’s ensuing possession, Edwards had a free drive towards the basket after Pinson and Pickett collided with each other defending a ball screen. Edwards gathered himself underneath the basket and was about to lay the ball in when Reed Nikko’s long arm came from behind him to pin the ball against the backboard and keep Missouri ahead.

“You know the play is probably to [Edwards],” Nikko said. “Great player, credit to him. I was just trying to be dialed in on when the shot goes up and when the drop happens. Just be ready to make a play and I was able to do that.”

Like Pinson, Nikko had his biggest moment in the last 30 seconds of a game that was among the best in his collegiate career. The senior scored a career-high 13 points to go with five rebounds and two blocks, but some of his biggest contributions didn’t show up on the stat sheet.

“When you’ve got a guy that plays that hard, that is that efficient, that is totally selfless and about what it needs to be for the team, that’s a very valuable thing,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “And in the second half, he got them a lot of confidence in my mind.”

Compared to the abysmal starts from the field against Texas A&M and West Virginia, Missouri was solid to begin the game, making three of its first five shots from the field, including two 3-pointers. This time, the problem was on the other end.

The Tigers committed eight fouls in the first ten minutes of game en route to giving Georgia 13 free throw attempts. The Bulldogs capitalized on nine of them. Nikko and Mitchell Smith finished the game with four fouls while Dru Smith had three.

With 13:33 left in the game, Missouri found itself down 59-39.

“I tell my guys, ‘we’re not gonna win this game if we don’t get stops,’” Pinson said. “And everybody just sat down and we just got stop after stop.”

Missouri outscored Georgia 33-10 the rest of the way.

“We just locked in even more,” freshman forward Kobe Brown said. “Early on, we gave up a lot of small defensive breakdowns. We just locked in, took those away, and just tried to play together as a team.”

While locking down Georgia defensively, Missouri also began to play more aggressively on offense, attacking the basket more instead of taking jump shots. Pinson said the floor "opened up" in the second half.

“We settled for 3-point shots in the first half,” Martin said. “I thought our guys just did a great job of attacking, attacking, attacking, put pressure on them.”

The win is Missouri’s second in SEC play. While it’s only one game, Mitchell Smith hopes it can be a turning point in what has been an uneven conference season so far.

“We may get down a little bit, but we can claw our way back, and we can win games,” he said. “We still have confidence. We’ve got confidence in our coaches, confidence in each other, our team, confidence in this program.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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