Since the turn of the new year, Jeremiah Tilmon has been a dominant force for No. 19 Missouri.
Something’s clicked for Tilmon since Southeastern Conference play began. Tilmon’s showcased the development he made in the offseason, notably by running the floor and avoiding foul trouble: an issue which plagued him during his first three seasons.
“My biggest thing was just staying on the court,” Tilmon said. “I had a stigma on me for the fouls. This year, I thought I just relaxed and been playing my game.”
Now, Tilmon is not only consistently staying on the court, but he’s also making a huge impact on it.
Tilmon scored a game-high 19 points as Missouri secured its second straight win by defeating South Carolina 81-70 on Tuesday. The Tigers are now 10-0 when Tilmon scores 16 or more points in his career.
Against the Gamecocks, Tilmon became just the fifth Tiger in program history to post 18 points, three blocks and three steals in a game. Tilmon also chipped in 10 rebounds and two assists.
“Him playing well is not a surprise,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I thought we battled him. He’s too damn big. At the end of the day, he caught us a couple of times over the top.”
Other than a nine-point, four-rebound performance in Missouri’s blowout loss to Tennessee in its conference opener, Tilmon has been fantastic in SEC play. In his past four games, he’s averaging 18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals. Tilmon also has three double-doubles in his past four games.
“I’ve always envisioned our team being able to throw the ball inside to him and to play off of him,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “(Other) guys can get clean 3s. We don’t have to force 3-point shots because of the way teams defend him.”
Tilmon was serviceable in nonconference play, making this recent stretch even more impressive. In six nonconference games, Tilmon averaged 8.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 0.2 blocks.
Despite Tilmon averaging a near double-double in nonconference play, there was still clear room for improvement, especially on the offensive end.
The 6-foot-10 Tilmon struggled to handle double teams, being passive and consistently kicking the ball out of the paint. Other times, Tilmon wouldn’t see the double coming, spinning into a defender and sometimes losing the ball.
Now, Martin sees a considerable difference with Tilmon when he gets possession.
“(For) three straight years, somebody doubles him and the first thing he does is dribble out and away from the rim to avoid the double,” Martin said. “Now, you see him, he’ll put his chest to the rim and he’s aggressive and strong with the ball. That’s hard to guard.”
Tilmon’s defensive awareness has picked up as of late. He had a career-high three steals against the Gamecocks. South Carolina goes with a smaller lineup as the Gamecocks have one player listed over 6-8, making Tilmon’s defensive assignments unique.
“(Martin) always says there’s going to be games where I have to guard guards,” Tilmon said. “Games like this, I have to be ready and prepared for what’s next.”
After notching a combined two blocks in Missouri’s first nine games, Tilmon has had back-to-back games with three swats. He’s is the first Tiger to do that since Jontay Porter did so in 2018.
“I just continue to let the game come to me,” Tilmon said. “I’ve been the same player since the beginning of the season. I would say, things have just been better for me.”
With each game, Tilmon is proving that this stretch isn’t a fluke. Whether teams go big, small or double team him, he’s consistently made the right play.
The Tigers haven’t had a go-to post player under Martin. If Tilmon continues to play at this level, that looks to be a thing of the past.
“Some guys, the opponent is the competition,” Martin said. “I think Jeremiah’s opponent is Jeremiah. It’s just a matter of him understanding who he is as a player.”