The three-game skid Missouri men’s basketball had been going through entering Saturday seemed a lot longer.
Losses to Butler and Oklahoma in an MU alumni-heavy city (Kansas City) on the week of Thanksgiving were frustrating enough, but it was Tuesday’s 68-60 loss to Charleston Southern that really injected a dose of dread into the Tigers’ hoops program.
Traveling to play Temple, an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago whose only loss this season had been to No. 3 Maryland, Missouri was reeling and needed a pick-me-up in the City of Brotherly Love.
Through excellent defense and a 16-point night from guard Javon Pickett off the bench, the Tigers got the confidence-boosting win they needed.
Holding the Owls to a putrid 2-for-21 (9.5%) from 3-point range while also hitting shots focused on quality over quantity, Missouri battled its way to a 64-54 victory at The Liacouras Center in Philadelphia to improve to 5-4 overall.
Also forcing 19 turnovers, it was one of Missouri’s finest defensive performances of the season and the fewest amount of points Temple had been held to in over a calendar year. A 57-51 loss to Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 19, 2018, was the last time the Owls had scored so little in a game.
“This is a hell of a win. Not a good win, a hell of a win,” coach Cuonzo Martin said to his team postgame in a video posted on the Missouri Hoops Twitter account. “When you come into a road environment against a good, experienced team ... it’s not easy. We’re going to do everything we’re supposed to do to win the game, and that’s what that was right there.”
Temple and Missouri came into the matchup with similar play styles and had national rankings backing that up. According to the College Basketball Reference website, both teams entered Saturday in the top 25 nationally in points allowed per game, while also each ranking below 250th in points scored per game.
The commentator team on the ESPNU broadcast constantly remarked that because of the strategies of the two teams, the first to a certain number of points (60 as the game reached its conclusion) would probably be the game’s winner.
The play-by-play team’s predictions ended up being correct. Missouri guard Xavier Pinson, with his team up five points with under a minute to go, dribble drove on the Temple defense and finished with a strong layup at the rim with 40 seconds left to boost the Tigers’ lead to 61-54.
That shot iced the game, but the Tigers wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place if they hadn’t came out guns blazing after the under-4 minute TV timeout.
Up 33-27 at halftime, Missouri then let Temple get out to a 12-0 run early in the second half as the Tigers started out shooting 2-for-10 with five turnovers. Missouri clawed back and traded the lead with the Owls several times in the second half, eventually leading to the under-4 timeout where the Tigers led 53-52.
Once out of the huddle, Mark Smith hit his only 3-pointer in four tries Saturday, curling off a cut and draining a wide-open triple with 2:57 left to extend the Tigers’ lead. After a defensive stop, Pinson followed Smith and faked his defender into jumping, turned and buried a fading midrange jumper to make Temple’s deficit 59-54 and to cap a quick 8-0 Missouri run.
Missouri now gets a week off before returning to Mizzou Arena with a game against Southern Illinois at 3 p.m. next Sunday. The Salukis have former Tigers’ player Ronnie Suggs on their roster, who transferred from Missouri in the offseason after two years with the program.