In Saturday's rematch of a Dec. 30 meeting that saw Missouri men's basketball fall to Tennessee 73-53, the Tigers got their revenge.
No. 19 Missouri downed No. 6 Tennessee on the road, 73-64. It marked the third ranked win of the season for the Tigers and their first win in Knoxville since 1972.
How did the Tigers avenge the 20-point blowout at the hands of the Vols less than a month ago? Here are a few of the key differences between the two matchups.
Pinson's performance in guard matchup
While Xavier Pinson led Missouri in scoring in its first matchup against Tennessee, that doesn't say much. Pinson was the only Tiger in double digits scoring 11 points. He only made two field goals and didn't record an assist, steal, rebound or block. Pinson struggled against Tennesee guard Santiago Vescovi. The 6-foot-3 Uruguayan guard outplayed Pinson with a game-high 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
"I feel like the first time we played them I just came off the screen and let them stop me," Pinson said. "I probably swung it and stood still or made the offense stagnant. So it was just getting downhill for me, and if not, swinging it, keep moving and keep cutting and screening.”
Saturday's guard matchup was a role reversal. Pinson made his case for SEC Player of the Week with a game-high and season-high 27-point performance. Pinson lit it up from all three levels, especially from 3, where he hit all three of his 3-pointers. Pinson finished 10-of-14 from the field, chipping in with four rebounds and two assists.
"The biggest key and part of our game plan is having him get downhill, get in the paint, make plays," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. "(Pinson) is effective when he’s going north and south and attacking. When he’s east and west and moving the ball side-to-side, he’s not assertive, he’s not aggressive. We need him downhill, making plays."
Vescovi was a nonfactor Saturday, scoring only three points. He took only three field goals despite playing a game-high 37 minutes. While plus-minus can be a flawed statistic, Vescovi was -12 on Saturday, the worst of any Volunteer. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes revealed after the game that Vescovi wanted to play despite dealing with a hip injury.
Basketball continues to transition into a guard dominant game and these two results emphasize that. If these two schools meet again in the SEC Tournament, look for this matchup to be a deciding factor.
Tigers showcase improvement on both ends
Tennessee has established itself as one of the premier defenses in college basketball. Entering Saturday, the Vols were No. 5 nationally in points per game allowed with 58.7.
Tennessee shut down Missouri in the first matchup, allowing 53 points, the lowest points total the Vols have held a conference opponent to. Similarly, it was the lowest-scoring game this season for the Tigers.
“You have to give all the credit to Tennessee beating us at our place," Martin said. "They won the game. But that wasn’t us as a team, and our guys knew that, and that was a hard pill for me to swallow, just from a toughness standpoint. You’re going to lose some games, it’s just, we allowed them to move the ball, everything you can think of, they did it, and it was like it was just practice for them. And our guys saw that, they understand that."
The script was flipped the second time around as Missouri broke down Tennessee's defense while giving the Vols fits on the other end.
Tennessee gave up 70 or more points for just the fourth time this season. After shooting 36.4% in the first game against the Vols, Missouri shot 43.9% Saturday.
Pinson's 27 points are the most a player has scored against the Vols this season. No opposing player had even scored 20 or more against Tennessee. The Tigers never trailed, and while the offense stepped up, so did the defense.
Missouri forced 18 Vols turnovers while the Tigers only had 11. This marked just the second time this season Tennessee committed more turnovers than its opponent, the first coming on Tuesday against Florida.
"They jumped out on us quick at home, so we knew we wanted to pick up that defensive pressure this time, not let the ball swing easily," Dru Smith said. "We were able to get a couple of turnovers, couple live ball turnovers there at the beginning and get out and run.”
Missouri's 3-point shooting barrage
Missouri isn't known for its 3-point shooting. Entering this weekend's games, the Tigers were last in the SEC in 3-point percentage (27.9%), ranking 327th nationally. Among Power Five schools, only Miami (FL) shot a worse percentage from behind the arc (26.9).
However, the Tigers picked the right time to get it going from downtown. Missouri shot a season-high 42.1% from 3 in Saturday's win over the Vols, going 8-for-19 from 3. The eight made 3-pointers is the most for the Tigers since Nov. 2, when Missouri hit nine in its 83-75 win over Oregon.
The aforementioned Pinson accounted for three of the eight 3-pointers. Dru Smith matched Pinson with three 3-pointers of his own, while Kobe Brown and Javon Pickett each hit one.
In the Dec. 30 matchup against Tennessee, Missouri made only 3-of-16 3-point attempts. The Tigers went the first 18 minutes without a made 3. Missouri's three made 3-pointers in a game is tied for a season-low, achieving the same feat Dec. 22 against Bradley.
“It’s good to see the three-ball go down because I know the guys put so much time into it,” Martin said. “If we’re able to knock the three-ball down and take care of the basketball, that takes us to another level as a team.”
Tennessee's talented freshman has given the Vols a spark off the bench. Springer's averaging 10 points per game on 53.3% shooting in 11 games. However, Jaden Springer has missed the last two games for Tennessee, including Saturday's game , with a left ankle injury. It's not a coincidence that the Vols are on a two-game losing streak.
Springer showed just why he was a five-star recruit according to multiple rankings. Springer scored 13 points against Missouri on Dec. 30, so far, his most points in conference play. While the Vols didn't need much from him in the blowout win, Springer showed why he has the potential to be drafted in the NBA. He played with a poise that isn't accustomed for an 18-year-old. Springer chipped in with three steals as well, tied for his season-high.
“He helps in games like this, no doubt about that,” Barnes said. “Where we felt we would get better is with he and Keon (Johnson) on the perimeter in games like this.”
While we'll never know for certain if Springer's availability would've swung the difference, it's safe to say he would've made an impact. Springer could've bolstered a Tennessee bench that scored only 14 points, as well as take pressure off of guards Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James.