PowerMizzou - Post-Game Report: Mizzou takes care of business at Wichita State
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Post-Game Report: Mizzou takes care of business at Wichita State

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Coming off a momentous win over No. 21 Oregon, Missouri faced its first true road test of the season Sunday in the form of a trip to Wichita State. The Tigers jumped out to an early 15-4 lead and never looked back, leading by double-digits for the final 15:32 of the game and winning 72-62. Below is our full post-game report, starting with five things we learned from the game.

Mark Smith led the way for Missouri with 19 points.
Mark Smith led the way for Missouri with 19 points. (Jessi Dodge)

* The talk about Mark Smith being more than just a spot-up shooter is finally coming to fruition. For more than a year now, Missouri coaches and players have said that Smith can contribute more than just knocking down three-pointers, but he hasn't shown it consistently (partially due to injuries). Sunday, Smith made just two shots from behind the arc. Yet he still led Missouri with 19 points.

Smith said that, when last season abruptly ended and quarantine began, head coach Cuonzo Martin challenged him to work on his ball-handling and driving abilities. That work is now paying dividends. Martin said Smith reminds him more of the prospect that averaged 21.9 points per game as a senior at Edwardsville (Ill.) high school. Smith made four of six field goal attempts from inside the arc Sunday. He also got to the free throw line five times, making all five.

“When we quarantined, coach told me to work on my driving, work on my ball-handling, and I feel like I’ve kind of gotten back to that," Smith said. "I feel a lot stronger driving to the basket now where I can make plays."

Smith didn't only contribute on the offensive end of the floor, either. Martin said he's actually been more impressed with Smith's defense than his scoring so far this year. Smith finished Sunday's game with the highest plus/minus of any player in the game at plus-15 in 33 minutes.

It's not like he forgot how to shoot from deep, either. Smith only made two of five attempts from behind the arc, which actually lowered his season three-point percentage, but when Wichita State cut Missouri's lead to 10 points in the final two minutes, Smith delivered a dagger from deep.

"He puts forth tremendous effort when he’s trying to be a great player," Martin said of Smith. "He’s one of those guys that, he’s going to carry whatever you tell him from the workout to the game, and I’ve been more impressed with him on the defensive side of the ball, to be totally honest with you.”

* Despite Missouri's strong start, Wichita State made the game interesting late in the first half. Guard Alterique Gilbert went on a personal 7-1 run in the final minute, cutting Missouri's lead to four points at the break.

After returning from the locker room, it didn't take the Tigers long to regain control. Missouri outscored Wichita State 15-3 in the first six minutes of the second half, including 11 straight points. That came after the Tigers took a 15-4 lead to start the first frame.

Starting halves well has become a trend for Missouri this year, which stands in stark contrast to the team's tendency a season ago to start slow, particularly early in the year. Martin attributed it to playing aggressive and looking to push the pace.

“We’re just being aggressive," he said. "You want to take quick, good shots. We don’t want bad shots, but if you’ve got a good shot, you got to take that shot. I think a lot of it has to do, especially in transition, the way our bigs run."

Despite continuing to push the pace against the Shockers — Mizzou finished with 15 points in transition — the Tigers once again took care of the ball well. After committing just seven turnovers against Oregon on Wednesday, Missouri gave the ball away 11 times Sunday. Only four came in the second half.

“We just settled in," Martin said. "Guys play with energy and emotion early, and it happens. Again, we have to continue to correct it. ... We’re not going to be perfect, especially with the way we run it, because sometimes we talk as a staff, we gotta punch that pass in there, especially when our bigs are running. It might not be on point, but you have to put pressure on the defense so they can at least think you’re throwing that pass."

* Key to the Tigers' strong second half start was sophomore Kobe Brown. Brown had been benched from his usual power forward role during the final few minutes of the first half in favor of Parker Braun. After the break, he came out aggressive, looking to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim.

Brown scored four of Missouri's first six points of the second half. He had 14 on the game, tied for the second-most of his career. All seven of his field goal attempts came inside the three-point arc, and he made four of them, plus all six of his free throws.

"I don’t think he played a great game by any stretch," Martin said of Brown. "But that’s what we expected from him when we recruited him, a guy that can do a lot of different things. Now it has to become instinct as opposed to kind of running a play for him. Because again, he can do a lot of things, and as big and strong as he is, he has to continue to get comfortable, but the physical part of the game in and around the rim, I think that’s the next step for him and not settling for three-point shots.”

* Missouri played more like a typical Martin team Sunday from a style standpoint. The Tigers largely suffocated the Shockers on the defensive end, holding them to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from behind the three-point line. After his brief outburst to end the first half, Gilbert didn't score in the second. The Tigers also won the rebounding battle 36-33.

"Outside of those probably last six minutes of the first half, I thought we really did a great job, just being physical, trying to defend without fouling," Martin said. "... Overall I thought our guards did a great job, and it was solid team defense."

Even though Missouri's point total was its lowest of the season, the Tigers still eclipsed their scoring average from a year ago. That likely has a lot to do with the team's focus on scoring in transition whenever possible. Martin said the team is still getting used to pushing the pace, him included. He actually thinks the Tigers have room to improve in that regard.

"I’ve always been accustomed to scoring 60 to 50 (points)," Martin said. "That’s always been my mindset, defensive toughness and all that. ... I have to continue to grow at keep pushing the ball. Because our guys, even on the sideline, I thought we got passive. Maybe around the last five or six minutes of the game, like Drew Buggs said, keep putting pressure on them, keep scoring the ball. Don’t just settle. I thought we regrouped and we did that.”

* Overall, it may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but Missouri won with relative easy on the road against a solid opponent while clearly not playing its best basketball. Xavier Pinson, the hero against Oregon, scored just three points while shooting 1-13. Jeremiah Tilmon experienced foul trouble for the first time this season and only played 18 minutes. Yet different players continually stepped up in big spots to keep Wichita State from gaining momentum. That's a sign of growth from last season, which the Tigers were prone to extended scoring droughts.

"I just feel like we play so well together, we’re an unselfish team," Smith said. "We just play basketball and guys know their roles, and I feel like we do them perfectly to get wins, so we’ve been doing that so far as a team.”

Missouri will look to stay unbeaten Wednesday when it hosts Liberty (4-2).

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Aside from a few dunks early, Tilmon wasn't much of a factor In this one. The senior big man reverted to his old ways, picking up two fouls in the first half (although at least one of the calls was questionable) and a third almost as soon as the second half began. Tilmon finished with seven points and four rebounds.

The good news for Missouri is Brown, Braun and Mitchell Smith picked up the slack well, combining for 27 points and 15 rebounds.

STAR OF THE GAME: We highlighted Mark Smith above, so we'll give some love to backcourt mate Dru Smith here. The senior struggled a bit in the second half against Oregon, but he went back to doing just about everything for Missouri on Sunday. Smith played a team-high 35 minutes and 14 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals.

WHAT IT MEANS: Missouri backed up its big win over Oregon by taking care of business on the road. That's a great sign. The team didn't play its best basketball but still controlled pretty much the entire game. It's early in the season, obviously, but you couldn't have asked for a better start. The Tigers have a strong case to be ranked in tomorrow's Top 25.

QUOTABLE: “I’ve always been a man that don’t take wins for granted. I’ll take 3-0 instead of 0-3 any day of the week. And then how many teams in America have a top-25 win and also a true road win? How many teams in America can say that?” -- Cuonzo Martin

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