COLUMBIA — Missouri fans, meet Mark Smith.
The 6-foot-3 guard, a transfer from Illinois recently made eligible to play immediately by the NCAA, looked and played like the best player the Tigers have available on the roster Tuesday night, netting a double-double in a season-opening 68-55 win against Central Arkansas.
Smith shot 23 percent on 3-pointers in his freshman season for the Illini and never made more than four in a game. He showed off the hard work he put in to improve that aspect of his game during the summer, hitting 5-of-8 attempts in Missouri's new white uniforms and finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"He's a great player, he's a good shooter, he plays hard the whole time," Missouri sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon said. "I just like his attitude. He's got heart. He's not ever going to give up, I can depend on him on that."
Tilmon was also impressive for the Tigers (1-0). His movement in the offense, both with and without the ball in his hands, looked smoother and more self-assured than his possessions as a freshman. He lowered his shoulder to get to his post moves, slammed home a two-handed jam while rolling to the basket on a feed from Jordan Geist and swatted a shot at the rim with an authority that would give the block prime billing in a highlight tape.
Tilmon played 18 minutes before picking up his first personal foul, a major improvement from the frequent foul trouble of his freshman season, but picked up three fouls between the under-12 and under-4 media timeouts in the second half. Evidence of improvement in Tilmon's fouling is there, but he still has growing to do in that department.
"I go back to the fact that it's a fine line with him," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Because you don't want him to lose his aggressive spirit. When he loses that part it can be tough. It's hard to get him going if that happens."
Tilmon was only whistled for one offensive foul, a charge that could have easily been a no-call on a flop, and looked less panicked when he was doubled, either by a big rotating over to help from his blind side or on a guard collapsing in to take away his dribble. His 16 points came on 14 shots, and he dished out two passes that were credited as assists, which doesn't mention the number of times he kept possessions going by kicking the ball back out to the perimeter.
Smith is a dangerous target teammates looked to on offense. Along with freshmen Javon Pickett and Torrence Watson, the trio of shooting guards combined to go 8-for-15 from beyond the arc, while the rest of the team shot 0-for-11 from deep.
"We knew he was really good," Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell said of Smith. "I think what makes him so good, he gets his shot off quick, he's got great range, and what we were trying to do was help our bigs dig down in the post, and unfortunately some guys forgot that Smith was the best shooter out there and we dug off the wrong guy."
Martin said after the game he thought the offense settled too often for a 3 or a post entry pass, when he was looking for side-to-side ball movement and cuts to the basket. Missouri had 38 points in the paint and finished 14-for-22 on lay-ups.
Tilmon played for 26 minutes without fouling out, which allowed Martin to keep him on the floor as an offensive weapon on a night the other veterans on the team couldn't find their rhythm.
Jordan Geist was 2-for-10 from the floor and 0-of-6 from three, and Kevin Puryear was 1-for-7 and 0-for-3 from deep, though he did contribute 10 rebounds. Reed Nikko was 3-for-3 from the floor for six points in five minutes and Mitchell Smith, still a little rusty, played 22 minutes and finished 2-for-5 from the field.
"Geist will be better, Kevin will be better from the 3," Martin said. "You walk away, you win a game with those two guys not scoring the ball well, I feel good about it."
Missouri's first test of the season is Friday at Iowa State. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. tip and will be streamed through the Cyclones' athletic website or on MediaCom Channel 22 in Mid-Missouri.