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Down Smith and Tilmon, MU falls to Texas A&M

Down Smith and Tilmon, MU falls to Texas A&M

February 10th, 2019 by Colin O'Brien in College Sports

Missouri's Reed Nikko and Texas A&M's Christian Mekowulu battle for a rebound during the first half of Saturday's game at Mizzou Arena.

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

COLUMBIA — Missing Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon, Missouri didn't have the energy in the second half to hold off Texas A&M as the Tigers fell 68-59 Saturday night at Mizzou Arena.

The Aggies were also short-handed and had six scholarship players, with Josh Nebo out with an MCL strain and another player with the flu.

Missouri is now 11-11, 2-8 in conference play, and stayed in 10th place in the conference standings ahead of Texas A&M (9-13, 2-8 SEC) because of overall record.

"We've just got to go out there in the second half and compete like we did in the first half," freshman guard Javon Pickett said. "We didn't have as much energy in the second half. Our defense, we've just got to go out there and play like the first half. Our defense wasn't all the way there."

Smith did not dress for the game and has not played in five straight games since injuring his ankle at Arkansas, and Tilmon was a game-day scratch because he had emergency wisdom tooth surgery.

Martin said Tilmon had the surgery Wednesday, the team's off day after the Tennessee game, and had not practiced with the team since. He said he thought Tilmon didn't play due to pain, and was unsure if he would return for Tuesday's game against Arkansas.

"Fortunately for us Tilmon didn't play, because he's such a load and a big factor for them," Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy said.

"It's a big difference. He's a big load, a tough matchup for anybody in this league. We didn't have Josh Nebo, so it would have been tough because Josh is a really good defender. We're really fortunate he didn't play."

Pickett led the team with 15 points, and Jordan Geist and Torrence Watson each added 12 in the loss. Kevin Puryear added seven points and was the team's leading rebounder with seven. Junior Reed Nikko earned his first career start in place of Tilmon and scored eight points in 19 minutes before fouling out, and K.J. Santos and Mitchell Smith combined for zero points on 0-of-2 shooting and one rebound in 27 total minutes.

"They were switching four or five ways with guards and our bigs," Martin said, "and we didn't take advantage, outside of Reed, with our 4s, Kevin, Mitchell, we didn't capitalize with that advantage there because they were really pressing up on our guards. We couldn't capitalize."

The Tigers started 0-of-9 from 3-point range but were still able to build a 12-point advantage just before halftime despite the cold start. Watson started the game 0-of-5 from deep but connected on two in a row early in the second half to extend Missouri's lead to 11 with 15:31 to play.

Texas A&M outscored the Tigers 39-19 from that point on, and 47-29 overall in a second half in which Missouri's offense looked listless and its defense unable to stop Wendell Mitchell (20 points), Christian Mekowulu or TJ Starks (15 points each).

"I just think we couldn't stop Starks or Mitchell," Martin said of what went wrong in the final 15 minutes. "Their ball screen flow between those two guys, they pretty much ran the same high ball screen, they got to the rim, made the play, made the basket."

Missouri made 11 shots and turned the ball over nine times in the second half despite finishing the first half with 13 baskets to four giveaways.

After the game, players said as much as they tried for it not to, offensive struggles contributed to lack of defensive effort, something that was evident as a 4-minute scoreless streak that started with 6:51 left coincided with a 13-0 A&M run.

"Definitely today you could see that," Watson said. "We went on a bit of an offensive drought, we were a little lackadaisical on defense. Just got to make sure we're putting in the effort the whole game."

Starks, who had been benched by Kennedy and did not start Saturday's game, clearly wanted to make a statement and the Tigers were the unfortunate victims. He scored two points and shot 0-for-7 from the floor in the earlier meeting in College Station, and finished 5-of-10 and 2-of-4 from 3-point range Saturday.

Missouri shot 3-of-4 from the foul line, while Texas A&M was 14-of-17. The Tigers had 14 assists on 24 made shots but were out-rebounded 34-25 despite the Aggies playing a smaller rotation for the majority of the game.

Missouri tips against the Arkansas at 8 p.m. Tuesday and will be televised on ESPNU. Arkansas (14-9, 5-5 SEC) lost 77-65 at South Carolina earlier Saturday.