COLUMBIA — It wasn't a pretty game, but Missouri is now 4-0 in Rally for Rhyan games after a 77-67 win Saturday night against Vanderbilt at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers (11-9, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) led by as many as 15 in the second half but couldn't put away a persistent Commodores team that got hot from 3 down the stretch until the final minute. Missouri looked more talented and driven, and though the final result wasn't particularly impressive, it was important as the Tigers defended home court and snapped a three-game losing streak.
"Happy to get a win, they're hard to come by," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "But also you win, you have a good night when you're talking Rally for Rhyan, that oftentimes puts this in perspective. You want to win at the highest level, and our goal is to be one day the last team standing, but tonight the goal was pediatric cancer, supporting that, and any benefit from that I think we all win.
"Other than that, I thought our guys did a good job, that's a hard thing when you're fighting to get a win, for both teams, it feels good."
Jeremiah Tilmon scored a game-high 19 points, Jordan Geist scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half, and freshmen guards Torrence Watson and Javon Pickett each added 12 and found lanes to the basket.
It was the first conference game of the season the Missouri freshmen looked and acted more confident than their opposition, and the trio of Pickett, Pinson and Watson scored 33 of the team's 77 points. Pickett had three offensive rebounds, scored the team's first six points in the first half and its first three points of the second half.
"I definitely agree with that," Watson said. "I think everybody around here is tired of losing, it never feels good to lose, so we just wanted to make sure we came out with energy and came out confident so we could get the win."
Missouri dominated the glass, out-rebounding Vanderbilt 37-26 and 11-2 in offensive rebounds, and had an athleticism advantage across the board for the first time in conference play. The Commodores came into the game winless in conference play and only led after going ahead 2-0 to start the game.
Vanderbilt put together several 6-0 or 8-0 runs in the second half, but was answered at every turn by Missouri, usually Tilmon or Geist, and though the Commodores got within three points on two separate occasions in the second half, the Tigers' lead never dwindled to one possession in the final eight minutes.
"Geist brings a lot of confidence to the floor, he makes a lot of winning plays," Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. "I think as long as he's on the floor they're going to be in a lot of games and (have) a lot of chances to win games the rest of the season.
On three straight possessions inside of four minutes to go, Missouri came away with big shots, first from Watson and then from Geist. Watson hit an NBA-range 3 as the shot clock buzzer sounded with 3:30 to play to answer three Vanderbilt free throws on the other end, and Geist connected on a contested 3-pointer 40 seconds later. Then, after Matt Ryan made a three to draw the game to 68-62, Geist fell down in a double team on the perimeter, somehow knocked the ball to Tilmon, immediately got it back from him and hit a contested teardrop floater in the lane.
"It was huge," Geist said. "I feel like sometimes when we get up and we're coming down, we kind of let up. I think that instead of trying not to lose, we've got to play to win and I think that's part of it."
Missouri had just nine turnovers in the game, and point guards Geist and Pinson combined for just one, against eight assists, in 53 combined minutes. In even better news for the Tigers, Tilmon played 35 minutes and for the fourth time in five games did not foul out.
Mitchell Smith played 20 minutes at the 4, the most since playing 26 minutes against Texas-Arlington in early December, and has seen increased minutes as Kevin Puryear and K.J. Santos have struggled. Smith scored five points against Vanderbilt after scoring two in 17 minutes at Auburn.
Missouri is at Tennessee for an 8 p.m. tip Tuesday, which marks Martin's first return to Thompson-Boling Arena since he was the Volunteers' head coach in 2014. Tennessee (18-1, 8-0 SEC) has climbed to No. 1 in both polls.
The Tigers are 4-17 all-time against top-ranked teams and last won against No. 1 Kansas on Feb. 4, 1997.