COLUMBIA — Missouri's defense turned in a stifling performance, the offense bounced back from a slow start, and the Tigers ran away with an 82-42 win Tuesday night against Incarnate Word to start the 2019-20 season at Mizzou Arena.
Jeremiah Tilmon had 16 points, seven rebounds and a career-high five blocks with four fouls in 29 minutes of action.
"I've got way more room to improve," Tilmon said after the win. "Of course I've been working, but yeah, I feel I've still got way more stuff that I can be doing. Like on the rebounding, I fumbled like four or five rebounds that I could have had, and I got two hands on it, so I just got to work on my strength and getting the rebound."
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said he thought Tilmon could have been more dominant on offense against an opponent that had some height but not much of a physical presence inside, but lauded his defensive effort.
"He did a really good job blocking shots, and that was one of the things we really try to talk to him about, having a presence around the rim," Martin said. "I thought he did, in my opinion, his best job since he's been in a Mizzou uniform, having a presence around the rim. But the growth, and just going straight up and blocking shots I thought he did a really good job."
Javon Pickett had 10 points and eight rebounds, Xavier Pinson added 15 points, including an 8-of-11 night at the foul line, and five assists, two of which were feeds to Tilmon in the post that led to thunderous dunks, one on an alley-oop lob that was well above the rim.
Another was a no-look pass to Tray Jackson in the restricted area that fooled the Cardinals' defense so badly it gave Jackson an uncontested dunk.
"I try to pick up where everybody likes the ball best and how everyone likes it and where, like what spots they like it the best," Pinson said. "I was just focused on getting my teammates the best opportunity to score and do whatever we needed to win the game."
The point guard combination of Pinson and Dru Smith — who did not take a shot in the first half but finished with eight points — combined for 10 assists and just four turnovers. The Tigers made a serious effort to feed Tilmon and Reed Nikko in the post, and the team finished with 42 points in the paint.
Missouri (1-0) shot 44.4 percent overall but made just 7-of-31 3-pointers, missing its first seven to start the game. The Tigers' ball movement created open looks from the corners and the wings, but the guards had a tough night knocking them down, as freshman Kobe Brown (2-for-5) and sophomore Torrence Watson (2-for-7) were the only players to make more than one.
"No, it's not a concern if they're open. I mean, that's why you're in the gym," Martin said of the 3-point performance. "The biggest thing offensively, you want your best shot. If they're open shots, and those are guys that shoot 'em, shoot the ball. If that's your shot there, you can't play the game worrying about, 'Is this a good shot, should I shoot it?' You have to play. The game is instinct, you have to play off your instincts."
In his first career start, Brown contributed nine points, three rebounds and two steals, fellow freshman Mario McKinney Jr. had seven points off the bench, including a windmill dunk in transition and skying for another putback dunk in the second half, and Jackson had six points, five rebounds and a block.
The Tigers had just 14 points at the 11:34 mark of the first half, and by that point Martin had already put 11 different players on the floor. But Missouri found a rhythm, led 43-22 at the break, and by the end of the game was able to empty its bench for different reasons, as every eligible Tiger except Axel Okongo touched the floor.
"I wasn't worried about the offensive spark, because my whole thing is, you defend, the offense will come," Martin said. "And you understand their game plan, because I've been knowing (Cardinals head coach and former Purdue player) Carson (Cunningham) for a long time, so we knew, just watching them, because of size, they were going to pack it in, so you obviously have to make 3s.
"I thought defensively we were sound, but we had open looks, they didn't fall, and eventually, just made some plays, stayed aggressive, relied on our defense, then the offense started to come."
The Tigers started the second half on a 9-0 run and clamped down defensively, allowing the Cardinals to score just five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half as Missouri built a 40-point lead. The Tigers' lead stretched to 46 with 1:55 to go as Parker Braun scored on a turnaround jumper in the paint.
Incarnate Word finished the game with 21 turnovers to Missouri's 14, and shot 26.8 percent from the floor, 2-for-12 on 3s and 10-of-19 at the foul line.
Missouri hosts Northern Kentucky at 7 p.m. Friday. The Norse went 26-9 last season, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed to eventual runner-up Texas Tech.
Northern Kentucky returns two of its leading scorers in Jalen Tate (13.7 points) and Dantez Walton (11.1).