Dru Smith

Dru Smith is surrounded by Florida players Saturday at Mizzou Arena. The Tigers notched their first SEC win of the season with a 91-75 victory over the Gators. 

Watching Missouri men's basketball try to score against Tennessee on Jan. 7 was, at times, an eyesore.

Tigers' head coach Cuonzo Martin has stated before that he preaches defense heavily because "you can always fall back on it" if Missouri's shot doesn't fall. But even when MU forced the Volunteers to commit 21 turnovers and only allowed six UT players to score, the Tigers trudged to a 69-59 loss because they — you guessed it — couldn't score.

But something's changed about the Tigers' offense over the past few days. In Saturday's 91-75 win against Florida, Missouri's offense looked reborn.

There was a posterizing dunk in the first half by guard Xavier Pinson (6-foot-2) over Florida forward Omar Payne (6-10), plus alley-oops and other slams. There were 12 made 3-pointers. There were just six Tigers' fastbreak points, but it was easy to tell that more Missouri men were getting down the floor after Florida turnovers.

The Tigers were high-flying, shooting exceptionally well and, overall, were a group having fun out there, guard Dru Smith said. 

"We were enjoying it. I know I get more joy out of somebody else doing something," Smith said, who finished with 22 points, six assists and five steals. "Watching Mark (Smith) go out and dunk ... we might not ever see that again, but I mean, hey. But yeah, it definitely brought us some excitement, brought us some awesome energy."

So, what was the sudden change in Missouri's offense?

For starters, the Tigers' 3-point shooting Saturday night was an outlier in regards to their past games this season. Shooting an astounding 63.2% from beyond the arc against Florida helped eclipse the Tigers' previous-best percentage of the season, which was 51.6% against Chicago State on Dec. 30.

In addition, Martin stated earlier in the week that he wanted to see his players get out in transition more; he felt his team lacked in that department in previous games. He didn't feel the Tigers lacked it Saturday, though.

"You can't defend at the level we defend that when you get steals and turnovers, you don't capitalize on them," Martin said. "We have to be assertive. We can't allow teams to ... all of a sudden allow them to get their defense set and we have to fight to score baskets. (It's) too hard, too many talented players."

Missouri did hit a lot of shots, yes. But part of the reason it did so was because of the Tigers' stellar off-ball movement and passing around the perimeter. 

The constant movement in Martin's motion offense noticeably bothered Florida's defense. Many times, the Gators were caught out of position and were spread out by Missouri's offensive spacing on the floor. 

Keep in mind, Florida didn't have a bad night offensively, either. The Gators' 10-for-23 mark from 3 (43.5%) was among their best performances of the year. But Florida went bucket-for-bucket with Missouri on the wrong night.

"(Missouri was) more confident. (The) ball really moved," Florida coach Mike White said. "They had terrific spacing. I thought they rode Dru Smith a lot in ball screen actions. They were in a great rhythm for 40 minutes."

Ninety-one points ties Missouri's best scoring output of the year, as the Tigers also put up that number in a 91-33 demolition of Chicago State. But to put that same number up in Southeastern Conference play against a team many believe will be in the NCAA Tournament speaks volumes.

The win means that Missouri now has three Quad 1 victories, with wins against Temple and Illinois being the other two. In an SEC where tournament bids might be at a premium, this newfound swagger with the ball could be Missouri's key to getting a ticket to the big dance.

"We'll enjoy this one tonight; I'll start watching film on Mississippi State (Missouri's next opponent) in the morning," Martin said. "If you do the things you need to do to be successful, you give yourself a chance to win the game. Motion offense ... is one of the hardest things to guard, but it's also one of the hardest things to learn and teach. We feel like it gives us an advantage."

  • Briar is a fall 2019 sports reporter covering Columbia College athletics for the Columbia Missourian. He is studying print and digital news. Reach him at bdn627@gmail.com.

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