Preview: Missouri heads to Kansas City for Hall of Fame Classic

The Tigers’ last game in the Sprint Center was against Kansas in 2017.
Junior Jeremiah Tilmon looks for an open teammate during Missouri's win over Morehead State on Wednesday, Nov. 20. Photo by Andrew Moore

Missouri isn’t worried about playing at a bigger venue this week for the Hall of Fame Classic.

In fact, Jeremiah Tilmon didn’t even know the Tigers were playing in the Sprint Center before a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“That’s where we’re gonna be at?” the junior asked reporters. “That same exact gym? Oh, that’s nice.”

While most of Missouri’s roster has never played in Kansas City’s arena before, Tilmon was there in 2017 when Missouri lost 93-87 to Kansas in the one-day resurrection of the Border War. It’s a game he remembers fondly.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Tilmon said. “That was, like, the funnest time. That gym was so packed … I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even hear myself speak out there. Hopefully, it’s like that again. I hope so.”

Missouri (4-1) travels west to KC for the Hall of Fame Classic, where it will face Butler (5-0) on Monday evening followed by Oklahoma (5-0) or Stanford (6-0) on Tuesday.

“It’s always good during the holiday season to play these type of teams in these venues,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Butler’s a talented team. They do a great job of taking care of the ball.”

The Bulldogs average just 8.2 turnovers per game and score an average of 18.4 points off of their opponent’s turnovers. Turnovers is one stat category the Tigers have particularly struggled with this season, losing the ball an average of 14.6 times per game.

“Imagine if we did a better job of taking care of the basketball,” Martin said. “What position you put yourself in. But you make it so hard on yourself by exerting much more energy than you should if you don’t turn the ball over.”

“Give yourself a chance to win the game. That means taking care of the basketball.”

Another struggle Missouri’s faced so far this season — at least statistically — has been its shooting. The Tigers are shooting just 43.4% overall and 26.7% from 3-point range. The free throw line seems to be the only place Missouri can consistently hit shots, where it shoots 77.6%.

For Martin, though, his team’s shooting isn’t yet a concern.

“I haven’t lost a lot of sleep because there are so many other things,” Martin said. “What we always talk about as a staff: if they’re in the gym [shooting] that’s one thing, and then if they’re shooting open shots and they’re not falling, that’s part of it.”

Junior Mark Smith — who currently leads the team in 3-point shooting — said he and the rest of the team feel similarly.

“We put in a lot of work, all the guys do, so I don’t think guys are really worried about that,” Smith said. “It’s early in the season and once we keep going, I think guys will really start knocking down shots. I believe in every one of my teammates when they shoot it. I just think it will come eventually and be great when everyone’s knocking down their shots.”

Butler’s backcourt includes senior Kamar Baldwin and junior Aaron Thompson, who have combined for a total of 106 points and 37 rebounds. Unlike Missouri, Butler’s starting five is comprised almost entirely of upperclassmen who have been with the program for their entire collegiate careers.

“[Butler has] smart players,” Tilmon said. “All their players are smart. They’re a mature team, they’re an older team. Like coach Martin just told you, they’re a disciplined team so we just gotta make sure we’re playing disciplined too.”

Tipoff for Missouri and Butler is set for 6 p.m. CST, with Oklahoma and Stanford playing after at approximately 8:30 p.m. CST.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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