COLUMBIA — Following Missouri's 91-75 blowout of Florida on Saturday night, nobody looked more stunned at the high-powered offense the Tigers suddenly unleashed than Gators coach Mike White.
He spoke to media with a noticeable pause between his sentences as he chose his words after the game, saying things like, "As a staff, we felt helpless," and, reciting Missouri's offensive numbers, "My goodness, 62 percent, 63 percent (from three), 18 assists, 11 turnovers. I don't remember the last time that's happened to us at Florida."
Now, with a two-game road trip facing the Tigers (9-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) starting tonight at Mississippi State (9-6, 0-3), there is something to indicate this team has other ways of winning games than just defense. The 8 p.m. contest game will be shown on SEC Network.
The players had said, earlier in the year, part of their offensive struggles had to do with a lack of movement. Spot-up shooters would screen and then stand in the corners as Missouri tried to feed Jeremiah Tilmon on the block, get an open three for Mark Smith from those screens or a kick-out if Tilmon drew help, and in desperate, late shot clock situations get the ball in Dru Smith's or Xavier Pinson's hands to try to make something happen.
Missouri's players and coaches would certainly prefer if Tilmon was healthy. But when asked if attacking in transition and attacking the rim was the kind of offensive game he wanted to see his team play, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin had an interesting answer.
"I hope so. I hope so," he answered after Saturday's game. "You have to be aggressive. Part of it, when Jeremiah was here, you know, guys look for him, look for him to post, and that can make you reserved or passive. You got to play the game. You have to go out and play the game, and it's one day at a time. You can't lose a guy of that magnitude, because again, when he's on a scouting report, you have to identify Jeremiah. Offensive rebounds, two guys around him, doubling the post, all those things. So if it's no longer there, other guys have to step up and dig a little bit deeper."
Without Tilmon on the floor, the offense necessitates more motion, as the strengths of Reed Nikko, Mitchell Smith and Parker Braun are not the same as Tilmon's. And with Tilmon out indefinitely with a foot injury, almost certainly for tonight's game and Saturday's contest at Alabama, there may be games the Tigers lose in when his size would have made a difference, or they don't make 12-of-19 3s.
Some teams may adjust their game plans now, but that was not the case for Florida.
"I feel like it was the tempo," Pinson said when asked if he could pinpoint the difference between scoring 59 against Kentucky and Tennessee and 91 on Saturday. "We pushed the tempo and allowed ourselves to have more chances to score, and (get) steals and turnovers. We've made a big, big emphasis on that in practice, our steals and turnovers, like, we play defense real good, but what are we going to do with it? Like, when we get a steal, when we get a rebound, missed shot, we've got to push the ball and get something, get what we want and stop taking quick, bad shots."
Overall the Tigers did a good job against forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. and dominated points in the paint, but Blackshear got to the foul line 12 times and his teammates another 20 times.
Missouri will face another good interior presence today against Mississippi State in 6-foot-10 sophomore Reggie Perry and 6-11 junior Abdul Ado. Both are in the top 10 in the conference in rebounding — Perry first at 10 per game, Ado ninth at 7.2 per game — and along with forward Robert Woodard account for 25 of their team's average of 39 rebounds per game. Ado leads the SEC and is 25th nationally with 3.6 offensive boards per game, and Perry is just behind him at 3.5.
The Bulldogs' big struggle this season has been turnovers. Mississippi State turns the ball over on 22 percent of its offensive possessions and averages nearly 15 per game, though Missouri isn't much better, at 14 per game.
But half of those Bulldog turnovers are on steals by opponents, and the Tigers have three defenders with excellent hands in Dru Smith — tied with LSU's Skylar Mays for the league lead in steals per game at 2.27 — Kobe Brown and Mitch Smith.
Missouri shouldn't need to score 91 to win non-overtime conference games. But with some kind of continuation of Saturday's offensive performance, this is a team that can win the kind of toss-up road conference games the Tigers have two of on tap this week.