Much of the criticism about Missouri's season thus far has focused on how the Tigers have ended halves. At the conclusion of the first half against UCF, Sunday's contest appeared to be ripe for more of the same, at least offensively. They put up an appalling 1-of-15 from the field, good for 7 percent, including a five-minute scoreless stretch.
As the clock dwindled down at the end of the game, however, Jordan Geist forced Missouri out of its late-sequence rut to clinch a 64-62 overtime victory.
With 52 seconds remaining, trailing UCF 55-52, Geist stole an inbound pass and swiftly netted a reverse layup. Missouri subsequently fouled UCF's Aubrey Dawkins, who sank both free throws. After receiving the inbound pass with eight seconds left, Geist waited a moment, sized up his defender, took two dribbles to the right and, while fading away, nailed the game's most crucial basket. It extended the match to overtime.
No other Tiger scored in the team's last 4 minutes and 30 seconds.
"I just wanted to make sure I gave it a chance to get there," noted Geist about the buzzer-beater. "Right when I saw it (go up), I knew it was going in."
Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin was more than comfortable letting Geist take the team's key shot.
"I would rather have the ball in his hands," Martin said. "He embraces those challenges. He can deal with whatever goes with it. If it goes in or it doesn't."
Geist continued his clutch shooting in the extra period, hitting a pull-up triple to put Missouri up 62-59. After UCF answered with its own clutch three, Jeremiah Tilmon used nuanced footwork below the basket to score the game's deciding points.
The team's game-opening string of success didn't foreshadow necessary late-game heroics. In fact, Missouri looked poised for an impressive offensive outing.
When Xavier Pinson faked a pass to free himself up at the top of the key, he nailed Missouri's fourth three-pointer early in the contest. It appeared that the Tigers might finally overcome the inconsistent outside shooting that has plagued them all season.
Twelve of Missouri's first 15 points came from beyond the arc. Mark Smith opened the game with two daggers. Jordan Geist added a triple a few possessions later, followed by Pinson's basket.
After the 12-minute mark in the first half, however, the Tigers' hot start beyond the arc froze.
Missouri missed its next five outside attempts, along with a five minute scoreless stretch. The Tigers finished the half 31 percent from outside, 6.5 percent lower than their season average.
Coupled with the suspect jump shooting, nothing seemed to work for the Tigers inside the paint. UCF's intimidating post presence led by 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall and 6-foot-11 forward Collin Smith continuously forced Missouri into feeble attempts. The Tigers went into the locker room shooting a paltry 23 percent from the floor.
"Playing against a guy like Tacko, you don't see that everyday," Geist said.
Missouri didn't dwell on its subpar shooting performance. The Tigers exploded out of the gate to start the second period with 8-of-10 shooting from the floor. The three-pointers fell at a more consistent clip with Missouri draining 60 percent of its shots, including contributions from Pinson, Geist, Javon Pickett and Mitchell Smith.
The Tigers' 54 percent shooting performance in the latter half raised the team's overall percentage to 37, six percent less than its season average.
Tilmon and Mitchell Smith managed to mitigate Fall's effectiveness and improve the team's interior offense.
"(Jeremiah's) got a low-post presence," Martin said. "Think about it. He's scoring over Tacko; that's not easy. When he settles in and and scoring like that, it opens up every other element of our offense."
"Mitchell's one of the best flashers in the lane and he can shoot the three," Martin said.
Missouri aims to fix the early game lapses on offense when they return to Mizzou Arena on Tuesday to face UT-Arlington at 7 p.m.
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