The 17 days between wins for Missouri men’s basketball seemed much longer than two and a half weeks.
The Tigers' comeback triumph over Georgia on Tuesday night finally lifted a weight off their shoulders.
Now Missouri must try to win back-to-back games for the first time in 2020, as the Tigers head to the Southeastern Conference's other Columbia to play at South Carolina.
Missouri is 10-10 and 2-5 in the conference, while the Gamecocks are 12-8 and 4-3 in league play.
Saturday’s tip-off against the Gamecocks is set for 2:30 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. South Carolina matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.
Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Mark Smith, Mitchell Smith, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko
Projected South Carolina starters: Maik Kotsar, Justin Minaya, Keyshawn Bryant, A.J. Lawson, Jermaine Couisnard
Missouri player to watch
Georgia head coach Tom Crean couldn’t stop raving about Reed Nikko. As the Bulldogs’ postgame news conference began Tuesday, Crean didn't even sit down at the podium before the compliments started pouring out.
Nikko’s presence helped ignite Missouri's 20-point comeback over Georgia. The Maple Grove, Minnesota, native scored a career-high 13 points.
The senior took over the game as the Bulldogs didn’t have a low post presence to combat Nikko’s wingspan. His clutch block of Anthony Edwards with nine seconds left helped secure the win.
South Carolina starts a three-forward lineup, meaning it’ll have a few options as to which player will guard Nikko.
With usual starting center Jeremiah Tilmon a game time decision Saturday with a stress fracture in his left foot, Nikko’s emergence could help Missouri move up in the conference standings.
South Carolina player to watch
Most likely drawing the primary assignment to defend Nikko is the Gamecocks' Maik Kotsar, a senior originally from Tallin, Estonia.
Kotsar leads South Carolina in all three major defensive categories. He is averaging 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.9 blocks per game.
The Gamecocks have won four of their past five games, including wins over Kentucky and Arkansas.
Over that stretch, Kotsar has two games where he combined for 23 minutes. The other three games, Kotsar averaged more than 33 minutes per game.
He’ll either serve as a heavy hitter ready to knock Missouri back home, or the Tigers will find a way to keep him on the bench for a majority of the afternoon.
Missouri’s key to the game
The fourth-place SEC team is ahead of the Tigers by only two games. Missouri sits in 11th place as every squad has 11 conference contests remaining.
The top three of LSU, Kentucky and Auburn and the bottom three of Georgia, Mississippi and Vanderbilt appear to have separated themselves for better or worse.
Missouri’s key is to continue what it started in the second half against Georgia. It avoided a dismal stretch to breathe more life into its season.
The Tigers had uninspiring moments in the four-game losing streak that preceded Tuesday’s win, but they hope those less-than-stellar stretches are firmly in the past.
Additionally, with Mark Smith missing the second half of the game against Georgia with lower back discomfort, having Torrence Watson or Xavier Pinson step up to take on more minutes than usual could be a huge factor against the Gamecocks. Like Tilmon, Smith is a game time decision Saturday, according to Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin.
South Carolina’s key to the game
Before winning four of their past five, the Gamecocks lost three in a row, including to Stetson.
Coach Frank Martin’s team entered SEC play as a roller coaster. South Carolina looks to stay on the straight track Saturday.
It’s clear South Carolina has talent, but each time this season the Gamecocks appear to have everything figured out, they hit a setback.
Missouri’s defense should challenge South Carolina, but the key for the Gamecocks will be staying steady and not reverting form.
Final score prediction
Missouri 75, South Carolina 71.