Missouri men’s basketball needed a bounce-back game.

The 20th-ranked Tigers entered Saturday on a three-game losing streak, playing their worst basketball of the season. Opponents seemed to have no problem scoring on Missouri’s defense, while the Tigers’ offense left more to be desired, with turnovers being a common theme.

The only team playing worse than the Tigers in the Southeastern Conference was their opponent Saturday.

That was evident Saturday in Missouri’s 93-78 win at South Carolina.

Despite their recent struggles, the Tigers remain a projected NCAA Tournament team. The Gamecocks are far from it. South Carolina’s loss was its fifth straight, and it provided Missouri an ideal opponent for getting back on track.

“Our attitude was definitely we had to get this one back,” Tigers guard Mark Smith said. “We felt like we beat ourselves these last couple games. We had a meeting and we met and we handled that. We just came together, and I feel we’re even closer now.”

Efficiency was a theme for the Tigers (14-6, 7-6 SEC), who made 5 of 7 shots to start the game. Kobe Brown was a force early, scoring 10 of Missouri’s first 20 points. Without Jeremiah Tilmon the past two games, Brown took on a bigger scoring role, setting a career-high with 21 points on Tuesday against Georgia. Brown finished with 12 points against South Carolina.

Missouri had one of its best first halves of the season, scoring 45 points on 50% shooting and leading by 16 at halftime. As the game went on, Missouri’s offense got better. The Tigers made six 3s in the first half and limited their turnovers.

“I thought the guys settled in and did what we needed to do to be successful,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.

While Missouri began to get settled on offense, South Carolina (5-11, 3-9 SEC) went in reverse. The Gamecocks were without guard Jermaine Couisnard (ankle), who averages 9.7 points, and could’ve used him Saturday as they struggled to muster anything offensively.

The Gamecocks had multiple spurts without field goals or points. Guard AJ Lawson, South Carolina’s leading scorer, was the only Gamecock with any success offensively. Lawson was hounded by Tiger defenders whenever he touched the ball, forcing him to struggle early on. He had three airballs in the first half, with just eight points at halftime. Lawson adjusted in the second half and helped the Gamecocks cut Missouri’s lead to seven, but that was as close as they would get.

“In the timeout, we all came together, and we said we got to nip this in the bud right now,” Smith said. “We got to get it back rolling and I think that’s exactly what we did. Dru (Smith) got a steal and an and-1, I think, and then we started rolling from there.”

The Tigers managed to avoid a second-half collapse, even with South Carolina’s initial push out of halftime. Missouri shot even better in the second half, going 19 for 29 (65%). The Tigers finished the game shooting 57.6%, while South Carolina shot 41.5%. After six games with double-digit turnovers, the Tigers had nine Saturday.

Jeremiah Tilmon returned to the Tigers after missing two games due to a death in his family. Tilmon came off the bench for the first time this season, just the eighth time in his four years at Missouri. Tilmon gave Missouri the post presence and big body it had been missing for the past week. He made all seven of his free throws and finished with 17 points.

“It was definitely nice having him back,” Dru Smith said.

The Tigers’ 93 points were their second-most this season and the most they’ve scored in league play. South Carolina is 0-11 this year when it allows 75 or more points and 5-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 75. Missouri is 8-2 this season when it scores 75 or more points. The victory gives Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin his 250th career win.

“I’m grateful,” Martin said. “I truly appreciate all of them because they are so hard to come by.”

Dru Smith matched Tilmon’s scoring with 17 points, leading the scoring for the Tigers. Xavier Pinson, Mark Smith and Brown also were in double figures.

“I think our balance comes on both sides of the basketball,” Martin said. “When we defend and we’re playing hard, then we can have balance.”

  • Sports reporter, spring 2020 Studying sports journalism Reach me at tdhvf9@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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