PowerMizzou - Addition by subtraction? Without Tilmon, Tigers find their offense
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Addition by subtraction? Without Tilmon, Tigers find their offense

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All season long Cuonzo Martin has told us this Missouri team was as talented as any in the SEC if it could stay healthy. On Saturday night, in a 91-75 win over Florida, the Tigers looked every bit of that…but maybe it was precisely because they weren’t healthy.

Mizzou scored a season-high 91 points against the Gators. Yes, they did it by shooting 63% from three-point range and 62% overall, but they also did it by picking up the pace, by driving aggressively and by getting contributions from every player who saw the floor. The one notable player not included in that was Jeremiah Tilmon, the guy who has widely been considered Missouri’s most important player.

And that was…a good thing?

“Part of it, when Jeremiah was here, guys looked for him,” Cuonzo Martin said. “You look for him to post and that can make you reserved or passive. Play the game. You have to go out and play the game.”

Now, don’t get confused. Missouri would love to have Tilmon on the floor.

“We miss him more than anybody understands,” Dru Smith said after his 22-point, six-assist, five-steal performance.

“When he’s on the scouting report, you have to identify Jeremiah Tilmon,” Martin said. “When it’s not there, guys have to step up and dig a little bit deeper.”

But the fact is, the Tigers looked like a different team on Saturday night. Mizzou hadn’t scored more than 66 points against a top 100 team all season. They blew by that with 11:25 to play against the Gators. They hadn’t hit 70 against anyone other than Chicago State since November 20th. They got there with 8:18 to go.

“Coach told us it looked like we were just standing around,” Javon Pickett said. “He was like, today just be confident. Have your feet ready and be shot ready. Be confident, drive the ball and if you can finish it, finish it.

“We were just having a lot of fun seeing one another score.”

Without Tilmon, other players have to shoulder more of the load. Florida coach Mike White said Dru Smith looked like an all-SEC guard, which is what he was whispered to be while he was sitting out after transferring from Evansville. Mark Smith and Torrence Watson were taking some shots inside the three-point line. And without Tilmon, everyone knew he had to shoulder a little bit more of the load.

“It might free some guys up, maybe a few more touches than they’d usually see. I know when I’m out there I’m trying to get Jeremiah the ball because that’s how we’re going to be most successful,” Dru Smith said. “But definitely I think it gave guys a chance to step up, a chance to be a little bit more aggressive offensively.”

“The roles probably change a little bit,” Pickett said. “You’ve got to be able to throw the ball in, but also be able to make a play for yourself, make a play for your teammates.”

Now, let’s be honest about some things: Missouri isn’t going to shoot 63% from three-point range very often--or at least not every night--even if every team plays “hope they miss defense” as White said the Gators frequently did. Just as Tennessee did against the Tigers on Tuesday night, Missouri got hot on Saturday. A team that has hovered in the fifties most of the season isn’t going to suddenly reinvent itself and score 90 every night. But there are some things that look sustainable.

“I think we can take our success in getting out in transition and also our success defensively,” Dru Smith said. “Just playing hard and playing together. Just continuing to build off this performance."

“I think it was our best effort of the season,” Martin said. “We’ll enjoy this one tonight and I’ll start watching film on Mississippi State in the morning.”

Martin has said Tilmon is “day to day.” In all likelihood, it’s at least week to week. The Tigers will be probably without their big man for at least a few more games. But Saturday night showed it’s not an injury that has to end the season. In fact, Saturday night offered hope it might be one that frees the Tigers up to be the team many thought they would be from the start of the season.