In some games, it’s been the outside shooting of Matt Lawrence. In other games, Stefhon Hannah has driven Missouri to victory. On Sunday, it was the energy of freshman guard J.T. Tiller.
Tiller, who finished with eight points, scored on three consecutive possessions early in the second half to push an eight-point Missouri lead to 14 to help the Tigers defeat Evansville, 73-54. Tiller’s baskets came after Evansville rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit.
“We had an injection, I’d call it an injection of energy from J.T. Tiller,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought he was the guy that came in and gave us big minutes, and then, before you knew it, it was like a wildfire, it started spreading over.”
After Tiller’s three baskets, the game was never in doubt. Before those baskets, however, the Tigers (9-0) were in trouble.
“We were flat,” Anderson said. “I thought we came out flat.”
Maybe it was the early noon start time. Maybe the Tigers were suffering from a letdown after beating Arkansas. Whatever the cause, the Tigers were sluggish and looked vulnerable early in the second half.
“Coming off a win against Arkansas, who knows why we started off slow,” Grimes said. “But, like I said, I think we picked it up in the second half, and that’s what mattered.”
For most of the season, Tiller’s energy was a bonus for a team that was already more energetic than their opponent. On Sunday, however, Anderson said it was a necessity.
“If there is one guy I know who can give us some energy it’s J.T.,” Anderson said. “And it’s not about the offense. I think defense is the thing that triggers the offense. He’s one of those guys that, when he gets into the game, he has to slow it down.”
Tiller’s style of play could be described as frenetic. When he gets onto the floor, Tiller is usually running and chasing the basketball. Anderson said he wants Tiller to play fast, but not too fast.
“It was a problem because I was used to playing fast and running up and down,” Tiller said. “He said just calm down and play.”
Keeping his game in control is something Tiller has to work on. But Anderson said he doesn’t want him to alter his style of play. Tiller, who was a triple-jumper in high school, is one of the most athletic Tigers.
“Sometimes, they want to do something so quick. You can be quick but don’t be in a hurry,” Anderson said. “You have to make them understand that you don’t have to be in a hurry.”
Tiller says he is listening to Anderson’s coaching.
“Seeing that if I (don’t slow down), I won’t be on the floor,” Tiller said with a laugh. “So, that’s kind of motivation to slow it down.”
Guard Jason Horton said that Tiller’s athleticism makes him a valuable part of the bench.
“He’s a freshman. He’s just learning,” Horton said. “(His athleticism) is really a weapon. We pride ourselves on having a good bench, having nine or 10 starters who can come in and make plays, and he demonstrated that today.
“I mean, you can deal with that when a guy is going hard. You can deal with some of the mistakes.”