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Too much Tennessee as defense falters for Missouri

Too much Tennessee as defense falters for Missouri

January 9th, 2019 by Colin O'Brien in Mizzou Sports

Missouri's Javon Pickett holds onto the ball as Tennessee's Admiral Schofield moves toward him during the first half of Tuesday night's game at Mizzou Arena.

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The extent of Tennessee's depth, chemistry and talent was on full display Tuesday night.

The No. 3 Volunteers (13-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) showed they are one of the best teams in the conference and country with a 87-63 win against Missouri (9-4, 0-1) at Mizzou Arena.

It was the worst loss by final margin in the still-young Cuonzo Martin era as Missouri's head coach, surpassing a 21-point loss to Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., last season.

Tennessee got just four points from the SEC's leading scorer Grant Williams, who fouled out with more than six minutes to play and was 1-for-8 from the field in 22 minutes, but didn't really need him. Jordan Bowden scored a game-high 20 points, Jordan Bone added 17, Kyle Alexander had a 14-point, 17-rebound double-double and Admiral Schofield added 16.

"I didn't think we defended at the level we needed to," Martin said. "They made some shots, and it just changed the game."

The Tigers started strong but faded at the end of the first half, and Tennessee's relentless defense and efficient offense provided no window for an upset after the Volunteers took the lead for good with 4:31 left before intermission.

Freshman Xavier Pinson led Missouri with 14 points and Jordan Geist added 12 in the loss, and the two combined for six of the team's 12 assists and just one of its 15 turnovers.

Jeremiah Tilmon was also a non-factor in a much more important way for Missouri. Tilmon picked up an offensive foul and then a technical in the first two minutes of the game, and sat the rest of the first half. He fouled out with six minutes to go, with three points and one rebound to his name in nine minutes.

"It was unfortunate," Martin said of Tilmon's early fouls. "And what happened, I felt we had good momentum and good energy, but what happens, you have guys out there with extended minutes that are not used to playing that many minutes in those situations."

The difference in the game was apparent when both teams had arguably their two best players on the bench in the first half. The Tigers broke off a small run with Tilmon and Mark Smith on the bench in foul trouble, but most of Tennessee's response to close out the half came with Williams and Schofield not playing due to fouls for the Volunteers. Depth won the game for Tennessee and lost it for Missouri.

"It hurts, obviously, because a lot of what you do with your game plan, they really work to establish him," Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Tilmon's early foul trouble. "I don't think there's any question it hurt (Missouri), but you think about it, with our team, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield were non-factors, and it was the other guys that came in the game."

Missouri came out with energy on offense and defense to start the game, sinking 3s and diving after loose balls, and led for most of the first half. The Tigers used an 11-0 run in the middle of the first half to take a 27-18 lead with 7:04 to play with a Kevin Puryear dunk. But the offensive rhythm disappeared thereafter and Missouri finished the rest of the first half without a field goal. Tennessee outscored the Tigers 24-4 in that time frame to take a 42-31 halftime lead.

The Volunteers continued to push on offense and swarm on defense, won the second half 45-32 and finished shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, while Missouri shot 36 percent overall and from beyond the arc.

"I think we fell more into their game," Puryear said. "And I felt we could have been better defensively without fouling. They got to the line quite a bit, got some easy baskets, and we couldn't recover from it.

"Defensively, I don't think we were the team we have been these past six games and we've got to be better. Especially against the No. 3 team in the country."

Puryear scored nine points and was Williams' primary defender, and credited the team's effort as well as six days of watching film on Williams' tendencies as reasons Williams never got going.

The Tigers could not match Tennessee's athleticism, shooting 8-of-20 on shots at the rim as the Vols swatted six shots. Alexander was a monster on the glass and came away with several rebounds on both offense and defense that he snatched out of the hands of Missouri players.

Sophomore guard K.J. Santos, who missed the first 10 games with a foot injury, scored a career-high seven points in a career-high 26 minutes of action, and the 10 days between games looked like it made a major difference in his offensive game. He was 1-of-3 from 3-point range and 3-of-7 overall.

"We're trying to stay positive with this, but it felt like our offense, we got pretty stagnant," Santos said. "I thought we could do a better job moving, trying to get open.

"We need to work on putting together a full 40 minutes, because we're a good basketball team and I know what we're capable of."

Missouri travels Saturday to South Carolina (noon, SEC Network). The Gamecocks (7-7, 2-0) beat Mississippi State 87-82 in overtime Tuesday night at home.