Tilmon’s big night fuels Missouri’s 71-56 win over Xavier
COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Jeremiah Tilmon caught the ball in the post on Missouri’s first possession against Xavier, he waited for a double-team. It didn’t arrive. So he spun into the lane and powered his way to the basket, hitting the shot and drawing a foul.
That turned into a recurring theme, as the 6-foot-10 sophomore forward scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a 71-56 victory over the Musketeers on Tuesday.
“I’m not surprised, because if he’s defended one-on-one and is not in foul trouble, I would imagine he would do similar to that on a regular basis,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.
Tilmon entered the game averaging 9.7 points. His production has been limited by near-constant foul trouble. On Tuesday, he avoided silly fouls while playing solid defense on Xavier post players Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins.
“Jeremiah Tilmon is an absolute load down there,” Xavier coach Travis Steele said. “I thought he controlled the paint the entire game with his physicality around the rim.”
Mark Smith and Jordan Geist each scored 13 points for Missouri (7-3), which won its fourth straight game. Quentin Goodin scored 21 points for Xavier (7-5).
Steele said Xavier’s game plan was to pressure Missouri’s turnover-prone guards to make post-entry passes difficult and then double-team Tilmon when he dribbled. But the Tigers avoided turnovers until the game was out of hand in the second half, and the double-teams didn’t arrive in time to stop Tilmon.
“I thought they would come out and double-team me,” said Tilmon, who made 10 of 15 shots from the field. “We’ve been working in practice for teams blitzing hard. When we got in the game, I thought they’d be blitzing me, but they weren’t, so that was my time to keep the ball and get a basket.”
After falling behind 9-3 early, Missouri went on a 17-0 run to establish control. The Tigers led 41-27 at halftime and increased the lead to as many as 29 points in the second half.
The Musketeers, normally efficient inside the 3-point arc, found the driving lanes clogged. They shot 39 percent, committed 17 turnovers and were outrebounded 38-32.
“I didn’t think we showed up,” Steele said. “Our execution was horrible. We were sloppy. That was from the beginning, even when we got up early. I thought Missouri was the tougher team, and that’s disappointing.”
Missouri: Smith shot just 23 percent from 3-point range last season as a freshman at Illinois. Since transferring to Missouri, he’s been a far different shooter. Smith made 3 of 7 from long range Tuesday and for the season is shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.
“He made himself a better shooter because of the time he put into it,” Martin said. “He shoots them deep. When he shoots a 3-ball, I expect it to go in.”
Xavier: In Steele’s first season, the Musketeers’ mastery of Missouri evaporated. Xavier had beaten the Tigers four straight times — including three times in the previous four years under coach Chris Mack — before Tuesday’s loss.
With 11 minutes left in the first half, Tilmon stripped the ball from guard Paul Scruggs in the frontcourt and drove the length of the court. Tilmon picked up his dribble too soon to dunk, but he managed to lay the ball in the basket. That was part of a 17-0 run for Missouri.
“In my mind, I was going to dunk it, but when I got to the free-throw line, I saw a guy and thought if I bounced it again, he would take it,” Tilmon said. “So I gathered myself and ended up making it.”
In an otherwise ugly offensive performance for Xavier, Goodin stood out. He made 6 of 10 shots — including 3 of 5 from 3-point range — and dished six assists.
“He’s getting better,” Steele said. “I think he’s starting to learn a little bit more of what I want out of him, as far as how we want him to play offensively. . He’s trying to make guys better and make the right plays.”
Missouri: The Tigers head to St. Louis for a neutral-site game against Illinois on Saturday at the Enterprise Center. Missouri will try to break a five-year losing streak in the annual Braggin’ Rights rivalry game.
Xavier: The Musketeers return to Cincinnati for a home game Friday against Detroit Mercy.