Watson shows first signs of scoring potential in MU’s 65-45 rout of UT-Arlington

Missouri’s scoring was evenly distributed, but freshman Torrence Watson led the Tigers with 12 points off the bench.
Torrance Watson guards a UT-Arlington player on Tuesday, Dec. 4 2018.

If the Missouri Tigers think their turnover numbers have been bad, they should look to Texas-Arlington’s numbers early in Tuesday night’s game to boost self-esteem.

To say UT-Arlington started sloppy against Missouri would be a laughable understatement. The Mavericks turned the ball over six times in the first 3 minutes and 35 seconds. For an unrealistically entertaining moment, they were on pace to finish the game with 67 turnovers (66.98 to be exact).

They went on to give it away just a measly 21 times, as Missouri cruised to an easy 65-45 victory over UT-Arlington Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers turned their own weakness – turnovers – against UT-Arlington to seize an early lead and run away with a second straight win that left plenty of breathing room after Sunday’s theatrics against Central Florida.

“We just try to have a presence on the ball,” coach Cuonzo Martin said. “There are a lot of back cuts that go on the back side, so guys might be a step slow just because of the cuts. So you need good pressure on the ball to buy time. Our guys did a good job getting deflections.”

Missouri (5-3) was paced by defense and a noticeable distribution of scoring wealth. All nine players who hit the court scored and three finished in double figures, but no one tallied more than 12 points.

“I’ve never really had a gauge on teams with who scored what,” Martin said. “That’s often times the last thing I look at. I like to see all of them score it, but that’s never been my gauge.”

The game-leading 12 came off the bench from freshman Torrence Watson, who wasn’t familiar with the bench as a star scorer at Whitfield High. He hasn’t started a game yet this year for Missouri. Watson shot 3-for-6 from outside, snuffing out his 3-point struggles while playing a team-high 29 minutes to match seinor Jordan Geist.

“Because of the landscape, the one-and-dones, the mentality nowadays is that a guy can’t be a freshman and go through struggles,” Martin said. “I know I went through it, so I had sympathy for him, but it’s part of the growth.”

Twelve points wouldn’t have been a lot to Watson in high school, but it was a milestone early in his career at MU, where he has struggled to adjust to life under Martin’s coaching. With scoring disincentivized compared to rebounding and defense, the transition to college ball hasn’t been easy for Watson.

“I didn’t have to play a whole lot of defense at my high school,” Watson said. “Coming and playing for Coach Cuonzo, well, it’s really difficult to play defense for him. I’ll say that much.”

Watson was joined by Javon Pickett to form a tandem of freshman guards with impressive showings. Pickett finished with 10, and the two combined for five 3-pointers. Pickett’s two triples came from the same corner and provided Missouri’s first 6 points of the game after going the first three minutes without scoring. Pickett and Watson played AAU ball together in the St. Louis area as high schoolers, so Pickett was Watson’s go-to guy to talk through struggles.

“Once you play hard on defense,” Pickett said, “that’s gonna lead hard to the ball going in on the offensive end.”

Sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon added 10 points and 12 rebounds for Missouri. He had reached double-double numbers with 13:32 left. He might have had even more imposing totals if his own weakness, chronic foul trouble, hadn’t caught up with him in the second half. Unscathed by a single whistle at the intermission, Tilmon picked up his first four fouls within the first nine minutes of the second stanza.

By then though, Missouri’s lead wasn’t in any sort of jeopardy. Mitchell Smith hit a 3 at the halftime buzzer to cap an 11-4 stretch and send the Tigers into the locker room up 37-21. The lead, which had lingered in the 8 to 12-point range for most of the first half, blimped to as large as 26 points during the second half.

Tilmon was free from the shackles of his matchup with UCF’s 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, who towered over the Missouri big man on Sunday. Tilmon was able to dominate on the glass without standing in an opponent’s shadow.

“Tacko made me feel like I was a guard,” Tilmon said. “It was different. Tonight they were short, but they were wide and big, so I had to play smart.”

Tilmon was on the bench by the last few minutes of the game, but Watson stayed out on the floor just in time to hit his final 3 to catapult into position as the game’s leading scorer. He only played two minutes against UCF after what he said was a leg injury, but he insisted he felt back to normal for his 29 on Tuesday.

Sophomore K.J. Santos, meanwhile, is still yet to play his first game in a Missouri uniform. He dressed out for the first time on Tuesday and warmed up but never saw playing time.

“He’s cleared to play,” Martin said. “We’ll get him more reps tomorrow. You’ll probably see him on Friday.”

That’s Missouri’s next contest, a 6 p.m. Friday clash with Oral Roberts at Mizzou Arena. Martin was asked if he’s looked at any Oral Roberts film yet after Tuesday’s game.

“With all due respect to Oral Roberts,” he said, “no I haven’t.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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