Sometimes, even when you know college basketball is a wild and unpredictable sport, it can still surprise you. That was the case Saturday night, when Missouri’s otherwise languishing offense exploded for 91 points in a 91-75 home win over Florida.
The Tigers (9-6, 1-2 in SEC play through Sunday) had not been a particularly good three-point shooting team, but they were white hot from downtown, making 12 of 19 three-pointers, a 63.2% rate. Missouri was particularly on fire in the first half, making 73% percent of their threes to surge to a 51-36 halftime lead. Seven different Tigers made a three-pointer in the game.
After scoring 59 points in each of their first two SEC games, the Tigers had 51 in the first half and 91 for the game.
Missouri thwarted every comeback attempt by Florida (10-5, 2-1 in SEC), usually with bursts of scoring and timely defensive stops, running out to a 20-point lead as they coasted to a win in a game that was expected to be a close game.
Tiger coach Cuonzo Martin talked during the week about helping jump start the offense by trying to run more and score points in transition. When you have a struggling offense, it’s especially important to get all the quick points possible before defenses can get set up and dig in. Missouri raced up and down the floor Saturday night, perhaps drawing energy from the small but lively crowd that was voicing its appreciation for the effort on a snowy night in Columbia. The crowd erupted when point guard Xavier Pinson threw down a dunk in traffic on one of those many fast breaks.
Dru Smith led the Tigers with 22 points, and Mark Smith and Javon Pickett each scored 14. With starting big man Jeremiah Tilmon out with a foot injury, Reed Nikko, the big man from Minnesota, filled in with 7 points and 5 rebounds while helping protect the rim inside.
Now Missouri goes on the road, with the Tigers traveling to Tuscaloosa on Saturday to face Alabama (2:30 p.m. on SEC Network). Road games are usually tough, and Alabama will provide a good test for Missouri as the Tigers try to build off Saturday’s win.
The Crimson Tide (8-7, 1-2 in SEC) battled hard at Kentucky on Saturday before losing 76-67. Nate Oats, who had a successful run coaching Buffalo, is in his first year as head coach at Alabama.
The game could be an interesting clash of styles, or a test of Missouri’s newfound emphasis on scoring in transition. Alabama plays by far the most up-tempo pace in the SEC, preferring to get up and down the court and play quick possessions rather than grinding it out. Missouri is one of the slower tempo teams in the SEC, although they might be looking to play at a little quicker pace.
Whatever pace the game is played, this will be close to a tossup game, and a nice opportunity for Missouri to notch a decent road win.