Stifling defense leads Missouri past Wofford

The Tigers shut Wofford out from the field for the final 14:35 of the game.
Guard Xavier Pinson dribbles through traffic during Missouri's win over Wofford Monday night. Photo by Andrew Moore

With 14:35 left in the game, Wofford’s Nathan Hoover knocked down a mid-range jump shot to bring the Terriers within two points of Missouri. The Tigers had kept Wofford at an arm's length for most of the game, but when Hoover hit two free throws on the next possession, the game was tied at 45.

That’s when Missouri’s defense came alive.

Trapping in the backcourt, the Tigers used a press that threw Wofford (2-3) out of its rhythm offensively. The Terriers didn’t make a shot from the field for the rest of the game as Missouri (3-1) cruised to a 75-56 win.

“Make them work, take it out of the point guard’s hands, now they can’t flow as smoothly,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Because everything they do — they go with [Storm] Murphy. He’s a talented point guard. He makes plays for them. So you take it out of his hands, make other guys bring it up. They go to their plan B and C.”

After Hoover tied the game in Wofford’s short-lived second half comeback attempt, sophomore guard Xavier Pinson took control. Taking the ball up the court, he froze his defender with a crossover and stepped left for a midrange jumper. A minute later, he had an assist on a 3-pointer by junior Mark Smith.

Wofford brought the ball up the court on the next possession needing a basket to stop the bleeding. Pinson found himself screened near halfcourt and forced to switch on defense. He knew what was going to happen next.

“I seen it coming, and our job was to make every pass hard, and I was there in the passing lane and it just came to me,” he said. “Nothing too special, nothing too much, nothing too flashy.”

Pinson jumped in front of Murphy’s pass and took the ball the other way for an emphatic one-handed dunk, giving Missouri a seven-point lead. The game never got any closer than that. Pinson finished with 10 points and four assists.

Offensively, Missouri went Jeremiah Tilmon’s direction early and often in both halves. He recorded an assist on the first possession of the game, feeding Dru Smith out of the post for a layup. He picked up his first points less than a minute later on a jump-hook before knocking down his first career 3-pointer. He had a similarly aggressive start to the second half, putting up 4 of Missouri’s first 6 points on a pair of dunks. He finished with 16 points and five rebounds.

“They all be telling me, they need to get me the ball,” Tilmon said. “Of course I want the ball, so as long as I’m getting good position, and playing strong [then] they know I’m gonna pass the ball back out if I’m getting double teamed. I’m not just gonna take no bad shots. I feel like they was [giving me the ball] to open things up for them.”

Tilmon’s 3-pointer started an early barrage from beyond the arc. Missouri hit four of its first five attempts from 3-point range. Wofford countered by making four of its first nine, but finished just 6-22. Meanwhile, Missouri made nine of 23 for a 39% clip. Mark Smith led the Tigers in scoring with 19 points and was 4-8 from downtown. Smith averaged 11.6 points per game for Missouri in 2018-19, but the Tigers got production from a less expected source Monday night.

Redshirt freshman Parker Braun had a solid all-around game in some of his first meaningful minutes of his collegiate career. In nine minutes, he scored 4 points, grabbed two rebounds and recorded a block and a steal.

“It’s not always there on the offensive end, but you can always bring effort and energy on the defensive end,” he said. “Dru [Smith] found me early and I just tried to keep doing what I do.”

Missouri’s next game will be on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CST against Morehead State.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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