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story.lead_photo.caption In this Jan. 11 file photo, Missouri players celebrate on the bench during the second half of a game against Florida at Mizzou Arena. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

A week into the start of 2020, and 14 games into the 2019-20 season, the Tigers were not playing free-flowing, offensive basketball.

The Missouri men's squad opened the season 4-1 without letting an opponent break 65 points, then turned in three straight defensive performances that were not up to Cuonzo Martin's standards, losing to Butler and Oklahoma at the Sprint Center and Charleston Southern at home.

Even in wins against Southern Illinois (64-48) and Illinois (63-56), the Tigers were more about making you miss than forcing you to keep up in the scoring department. A pair of double-digit losses to Kentucky and Tennessee to open Southeastern Conference play backed that up.

Then, on a snowy Saturday night in Boone County, Missouri came out of the tunnel with its hair on fire and blitzed Florida to the tune of 91 points, the highest offensive output in a conference game in the Martin era, and the most points scored in a regulation conference game since the Tigers tuned up Arkansas 93-63 seven years earlier.

With Jeremiah Tilmon on the bench, post players Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith stepped up to corral Kerry Blackshear, the preseason conference Player of the Year, into 5-of-12 shooting from the floor, four total rebounds and three turnovers.

Missouri came into the game a dreadful 3-point shooting team but nailed 12-of-19 from deep, including multiple 3s from Mitchell Smith, Mark Smith, Javon Pickett and Dru Smith, who finished with 22 points, six assists and five steals. The Tigers also got to the rim at will, including a thunderous slam by 6-foot-2 Xavier Pinson against 6-10 Omar Payne.

By the time it was all over, Missouri had dominated points in the paint 40-14 and, along with a 104-98 double-overtime win against Alabama two games prior, skewed the Gators' defensive averages significantly. Florida coach Mike White looked shell shocked in his postgame comments.

"As a staff, we felt helpless. We couldn't find a way to get stops," he said.

That game did not prove to be the cure-all for the Tigers, as they went on to lose six of their next seven games to reach the halfway point of SEC play with a 2-7 mark.

But it helped provide a blueprint, and a ceiling for expectations. Through Pinson, Missouri found ways to score more consistently and finished the second half of conference play 5-4, losing those four games by an average of 6.5 points, and the wins included a similarly stunning upset of a ranked Auburn team at home, 85-73, a month later.

III

The football team ended its three-game streak of wild and wacky losses to South Carolina with a 34-14 victory that returned the Mayors' Cup to Columbia, Mo.

A fumble return for a score by Cale Garrett continued his stretch of consecutive games with a defensive score, and a 100-yard interception return by Ronnell Perkins on third-and-goal late in the third quarter turned what could have been a 3-point game into a 31-14 one.

One week after completing 36-of-57 passes for 324 yards against No. 8 Alabama, the Tigers held Gamecocks QB Ryan Hilinski to 13-of-30 passing for 166 yards while allowing just 16 yards rushing on 24 carries.

III

The biggest question surrounding the 2020 Missouri softball team is "What if?" but the Tigers made one thing clear in the 26 games they did manage to play: they never quit.

That was clearest during the first four games at the ESPN St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational.

Missouri staged three late inning comebacks to beat Liberty, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech.

The Cowgirls, ranked No. 16, held the Tigers scoreless on two hits through 6 innings, but Missouri broke through with an RBI groundout and an error to force extra innings, then scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the top of the eighth.

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