And-One: Comeback win offers a ray of hope
Following each Mizzou basketball game this season, we will highlight a few notable takeaways from the performance in the ‘And-One.’
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Tigers get big harvest from the Reed Nikko tree
Before he even sat down in the interview room following a 72-69 loss to Missouri, Georgia coach Tom Crean had started praising Reed Nikko.
"One of the toughest, hardest-nosed players in this league," Crean said of the Tigers' senior center. "In the second half Reed Nikko took momentum from us and we didn't have any way that we were able to stem it really, even though we were right in it obviously. Reed Nikko changed the game. He changed the energy of the game for them. You have to recruit that. You have to recruit the Reed Nikkos of the world because they don't grow on trees."
Crean's effusive praise was understandable. Nikko had a career-high 13 points against the Bulldogs including two free throws that gave Missouri a 66-65 lead, the Tigers' first advantage since it was 14-13 less than nine minutes in. He made five of seven shots, three of four free throws, had five rebounds and a block on Anthony Edwards that effectively won the game for the Tigers.
"Reed came out of nowhere and had a huge block. Game-winning block," Mitchell Smith said. "Proud of him. He played hard tonight. I couldn't be more proud of him."
"I thought he brought what he always brings," Cuonzo Martin said. "Intelligence, leadership as an older guy, battle-tested, a guy that's committed to a program.
"The second half, we needed him to have a presence offensively. He's a better scorer, in my opinion, than what he shows sometimes."
He showed it on Tuesday just in time for the Tigers.
"Unbelievable," Xavier Pinson said. "That was an unbelievable performance from him."
"Reed played the way he's supposed to play," Mitchell Smith said.
Taking the right threes
During a four-game losing streak, Missouri had attempted 106 three-point shots. The Tigers had made only 26 of them. Missouri didn't take a lot fewer threes on Tuesday night, but they took the right ones.
"We've talked about it for a while," Martin said of Mizzou's emphasis on attacking the basket. "That means you're not settling for three point shots. I thought we settled for three-point shots in the first half. I thought our guys did a great job of attacking, attacking, attacking...We did that in the second half and it just changed the game for us."
The Tigers were 10-for-23 from three-point range against the Bulldogs, even with Mark Smith missing both of his attempts and sitting out the second half with a sore lower back.
The chief driver was Xavier Pinson, who scored all 16 of his points in the second half and was getting in the lane almost at will.
"I was just so locked in," Pinson said. "The scouting report, I know they allow people to get in the lane pretty easy so that's basically what I was doing."
Martin said the what the Tigers did so well was stick to the scouting report. He said Georgia switched five ways on defense, which opens up straight line drives. The drives by Pinson opened up shooters and led to 17 free throw attempts for the Tigers after they took only four in the first half.
A sliver of light
While many scoffed at the preseason predictions slating Missouri as the 13th place team in the 14-team SEC, that's exactly where it looked like the Tigers would be sitting when Georgia held a 59-39 lead with 13:33 to play.
"In the huddle, we just said stick together," Javon Pickett said. "We did that. On the defensive end, it helped us out a lot just locking in on our assignments.
"On the offensive end, getting to the basket, finishing, even if we missed our bigs did a good job getting their hands in there, getting the rebounds and going up for the second chance."
The Tigers finished the game on a 33-10 run, pulling out a win that looked, to be kind, unlikely midway through the second half.
"I needed that to sleep a little bit better," Martin said when asked how big the win was. "I love these moments. I don't like being in them like that, but it's adversity. It's life stuff. Even though you're on the floor playing a game, you have to learn how to fight through something. Don't give up. Understand the task at hand.
"We'll get there one possession at a time. Those are growth opportunities and those will last those guys 20 years down the road."
The win bumped the Tigers ahead of Georgia and Ole Miss (which blew a 19-point second-half lead against Auburn Tuesday night) in the standings. They're still in 11th, but up next is South Carolina, which sits just a game-and-a-half ahead of Mizzou in the SEC standings. The entire league is a jumble. Just two games separate 11th place from fifth and just three stand between 11th and 3rd.
"The margin for error is normally slim," Martin said. "But when you get in league play there’s no margin for error."
Game at a Glance
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM: This isn't a team that's given up. Many have left the Tigers for dead and declared the season over. But teams that believe that don't come back from 20-point deficits. While the NCAA Tournament is still a goal too lofty to really entertain right now, the SEC holds a lot of winnable games. if Missouri can find a way to bottle the final 12 minutes of Tuesday's game and carry some actual momentum into the next few contests, the Tigers could still find a way to pile up some wins and climb up the standings.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN: Mark Smith sat out the second half with a back problem. Missouri doesn't have much depth to begin with and while the Tigers were able to win without Smith on Tuesday, it's hard to expect double-figure performances from Nikko and Mitchelll Smith every night and hard to see a team that has shot the ball poorly all year continuing at the 43% three-point clip it had against UGA's giving defense. If the Tigers are going to make any sort of a run, they'll likely need Smith to do it.
STOCK UP: Reed Nikko and Xavier Pinson. Nikko played his best game as a Tiger on Tuesday. Pinson had been slumping badly the last few weeks but took over and drove Missouri's comeback offensively.
STOCK DOWN: Kobe Brown. The freshman was scoreless with three turnovers and three fouls in ten minutes. The Tigers were outscored by 14 points in the ten minutes he was on the floor.
UP NEXT: Missouri (10-10, 2-5) will visit South Carolina (11-8, 3-3) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.