Mizzou passes tough test with 68-56 win over Georgia
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri’s Jontay Porter didn’t hesitate. Jordan Geist flung a pass to the freshman forward, who took one step, jumped over 6-foot-8 Georgia forward Yante Maten and crashed the ball into the net.
The crowd at Mizzou Arena erupted, foreshadowing the explosiveness Missouri would have in the second half on Wednesday night. On the drive after Porter’s dunk, Geist stole the ball from William Jackson III and made the layup to cut Georgia’s lead to three at the halftime buzzer.
Those two drives marked the beginning of the turnaround for Missouri, as the Tigers overcame a sluggish start to defeat Georgia 68-56.
Porter had 15 points and 10 rebounds in his first career start.
Georgia cut a second half, 10-point deficit to two on Rayshaun Hammonds’ 3-pointer, but the Tigers went on a 7-0 run thanks to 3-pointers from Kassius Robertson and Kevin Puryear with six minutes left. Missouri (12-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) widened its lead to 15 before sealing the victory.
“We didn’t respond to the physical play from Mizzou, and they flat out out-played us in the second half,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said.
Stagnant play plagued both teams in the first half, though Georgia held the lead through halftime. It took the Tigers 11 minutes to make a jump shot, as Robertson drilled a corner three that tied the game at 11. The Bulldogs were only shooting 30 percent midway through the first half.
With less than three minutes left in the half, the teams were a combined 12-of-49 shooting from the field.
“I just felt like we didn’t have a real flow,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We had to make adjustments, and it worked out for us.”
A different Missouri team showed up in the second half. Porter, along with fellow freshman Jeremiah Tilmon, were the biggest reasons why.
Tilmon, who finished with 10 points, opened the half with a dunk that capitalized on the two Missouri drives that ended the first half. A back-door pass from Geist gave Tilmon another open dunk, and Porter made an up-and-under layup on the next drive. Missouri finally had the lead, and from there it would stay.
“You can’t double team us because if you double team me, I can kick the ball out to (Porter),” Tilmon said. “It’s guaranteed to knock the shot down.”
The Tigers did indeed start knocking the shots down, and it wasn’t just Tilmon and Porter. Robertson added 15 points for the Tigers. Geist chipped in 10 points and Puryear finished with nine.
“(Tilmon and Porter) gave us the surge that we needed,” Puryear said. “We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the first half, but we did a good job in the second half. And when those two guys made those plays, the flow was a lot better.”
Not only did the offense spark, but Missouri’s defense shut down Georgia.
The Tigers opened the second half with a 13-2 run. Porter held Maten, a National Player of the Year candidate and the preseason SEC Player of the Year honoree, to 1 of 5 field goals midway through the second half. Maten finished with nine points.
“I didn’t like his response today,” Fox said about Maten. “He’s been a great player; he’s been a terrific player. Tonight, he didn’t respond to the challenge, really.”
The Bulldogs tried to keep up with the increased tempo from Missouri. Jackson and Tyree Crump each had 10 points to lead Georgia (11-4, 2-2).
But the Tigers were too much, even though the last two Georgia drives were 3-pointers from Teshaun Hightower and Crump.
Thanks to Porter’s dunk in the last minutes of the first half, and Tilmon’s dunks at the beginning of the second, Missouri set the pace and claimed the victory.
“A team that really makes you work to score, that’s one thing I do remember about Georgia’s teams,” Martin said. “They make you work around the out, nothing easy. But once we settled in, it really set a tone for us.”
Georgia: Georgia showed its shooting could hang on in the SEC in the first half, but as soon as Missouri increased the tempo, the Bulldogs ran dry and ceased to compete.
Missouri: The Tigers showed an epic second-half turnaround, scoring 48 points against the Bulldogs, who lead the SEC in scoring defense and field goal defense. Now all Missouri needs to do is find that scoring in the first half.
Missouri’s Jordan Barnett came into Wednesday night on a dominant run, scoring a career-best 28 points against Florida on Saturday. Yet Georgia stifled Barnett, who finished with seven points on 2-7 field goal shooting and 1-5 from beyond the arc.
Georgia hosts South Carolina on Saturday.
Missouri travels to face Arkansas on Saturday.