With Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon out of action Saturday at South Carolina, Missouri men's basketball was stagnant offensively.
Gone from last Tuesday was the resiliency that led the Tigers to a 72-69 comeback victory against Georgia. The Tigers followed that win by shooting 33% from the field and committing 17 turnovers in a 76-54 loss to the Gamecocks.
Missouri now gets its first chance at Southeastern Conference redemption in facing an opponent it has already seen in league play, as the Tigers travel to face Texas A&M in College Station on Tuesday night.
Missouri fell 66-64 on Jan. 21 in the first meeting between the teams.
Two weeks later, Missouri will look to climb out of the bottom four of the SEC standings and avoid having to play five games in five days at the conference tournament to earn an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Tuesday’s tip-off against the Gamecocks is set for 8 p.m. on SEC Network and will be radio broadcast on KTGR (105.1 FM).
Here’s a closer look at the Missouri vs. Texas A&M matchup. Below are projected lineups, players to watch, keys to the game and a score prediction.
Projected Missouri starters: Dru Smith, Xavier Pinson, Mitchell Smith, Javon Pickett, Reed Nikko
Projected Texas A&M starters: Josh Nebo, Emanuel Miller, Wendell Mitchell, Andre Gordon, Savion Flagg
Missouri player to watch
Inserted into the starting lineup, Xavier Pinson took on a larger role and was Missouri’s leading scorer against South Carolina.
Pinson scored 12 points (nine of the Tigers’ first 11 in the game), and he's capable of setting a pace the team can feed off, even when points aren’t flowing.
Pinson is fourth on MU in minutes played per game (21.2) and has appeared in each of Missouri’s 21 games this season.
Although Pinson has started only two games this season, his impact off the bench has been prevalent in a few Missouri victories, most notably the Braggin’ Rights win over now-No. 20 Illinois.
The sophomore has shown off his 3-point range as well as his prowess to get to the rim and be physical against taller players.
The 6-foot-2 Pinson hit the game-winning shot against Georgia, and should Mark Smith be out for a second consecutive game, the Chicago native will be asked to fill most of that void.
Texas A&M player to watch
The Aggies scored only 48 points Saturday in a loss to Georgia. Thirteen of them came from Wendell Mitchell.
Mitchell is a senior who most likely would defend Mark Smith should Smith be healthy.
The Aggies guard has scored in double figures seven times this season, including 23 points during a win at Tennessee last Tuesday. He leads Texas A&M in shots attempted this season, shooting 27% (50-for-188) from the field.
Last time against MU, Mitchell didn’t score in 18 minutes. He averages 8.3 points and 26 minutes per game.
Limiting Mitchell again would help Missouri’s chances of picking up a third conference victory.
Missouri’s key to the game
The Tigers are 10-11 overall, 2-6 in the SEC and 11th in the league standings with a logjam of four 4-4 teams ahead of them entering this week’s games. Missouri’s opponents this week, Texas A&M and Arkansas, are each 4-4 in conference play.
This is a clear opportunity for Missouri to gain ground.
Missouri's 4 of 19 mark from deep Saturday lent itself to continued frustration. Either more triples need to fall or the Tigers must establish a stronger inside presence — ideally a combination of the two.
On defense, as much as Reed Nikko has shined in Tilmon’s absence, teams have attacked him on a consistent basis, such as how South Carolina’s Maik Kotsar scored 21 against Missouri. Nikko and Mitchell Smith combined for 15 rebounds and four blocks against Texas A&M two weeks ago. The frontcourt duo will need a similar effort Tuesday night.
Texas A&M’s key to the game
Texas A&M, 10-10 overall in its first season under Buzz Williams, didn't have a great performance against Missouri in the first meeting between the teams. Both squads were sluggish, but the Aggies did just enough.
Josh Nebo, who scored 14 points to tie for the team lead against the Tigers two weeks ago, will again look to his use 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame to pose a threat in the paint. The forward is shooting 72% from the field on the season while averaging 12 points and seven rebounds.
His presence could help Texas A&M dictate the tempo just like South Carolina did against the Tigers.
Final score prediction
Missouri 67, Texas A&M 63.