Jordan Geist dribbled and dribbled and dribbled at the top of the key.
As Missouri faced a 57-54 deficit, the seconds ticked down. Yet Geist remained idle in one spot as his teammates and everyone else in Mizzou Arena looked on.
With no other options, Geist took a step to the side and launched a heavily-contested 3. As soon as the ball found the bottom of the net, the arena erupted. The trey at the end of regulation gave the Tigers new life and a chance to steal a win over Central Florida in overtime.
Missouri got the job done from there, earning a 64-62 win over the Knights on Sunday to improve to 4-3.
"I can't even describe it, you know?" Geist said after the game. "I'm confident I can make any shot. I'll take any shot out there. It doesn't matter if I miss it and get criticized for it. It doesn't matter to me."
In the extra period, the Tigers finally got the Jeremiah Tilmon they've been waiting for.
After Geist's unopen, unlikely, buzzer-beater sent the game to overtime, Tilmon found his presence in the post in Missouri's offense. He scored four points in an ugly overtime where the two teams combined for just 11 combined points, and the eventual game-winning bucket came after he fooled 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall with a smooth move in the paint to give the Tigers the 64-62 lead they didn't give up.
Tilmon again saw constant double-teams when he got the ball Sunday, but he handled himself deftly this time, coughing up just one turnover and scoring 10 points on six shots.
"Usually, in previous games, I'd be sitting there waiting for the double-teams," Tilmon said. "Well, today, I was like going toward the double-team and then taking a dribble back. Then I passed the ball out to the guards. That seemed to start working so I just kept doing that."
Geist followed up his 3 that tied the game with more magic in overtime, as he hit a step-back 3-pointer with 3:55 remaining to break a 59-59 tie. He finished with a team-high 18 points.
"I'd rather have the ball in his hands, because he embraces those challenges and can deal with whatever goes with it, if it goes in or doesn't go in," coach Cuonzo Martin said.
After another end-of-first-half collapse in which it failed to score across 7 minutes, 31 seconds, Missouri appeared to be headed toward a sub-.500 record and a defeat to a team it beat last year, 62-59.
But the Tigers burst out of the gate in the second half, led by Javon Pickett, who hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and a layup after an offensive rebound that spurred a 7-0 run for Missouri. The rest of the Tigers followed suit with a fiery offense that had been missing, and erased an ugly first half, shooting 54 percent from the field and 58 percent from deep.
In the season's first six games, Pickett was frequently stagnant in the corner, watching as the offense fuddled about, albeit with lots of fist pumps and energy. But on Sunday, that energy was accompanied by a Pickett who was lively all around the floor, snatching two steals and three offensive rebounds to go along with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting. It was a season-high in points for Pickett, but he credits his impressive offensive showing to his hard-nosed defense.
"I felt more comfortable, but it started on the defensive end, overall just playing defense, knocking down my shot and seeing my teammates knocking down shots," he said. "My teammates encourage me to keep shooting, so that played a big part."
Missouri began the game on fire, as two threes from Mark Smith and another from Geist had the team leading 9-2 early. Strong, active defense from the Tigers resulted in four UCF turnovers within the first five minutes. But though the shots weren't falling early for the Knights, they hung around by making frequent trips to the foul stripe — Missouri committed 12 personal fouls, which allowed UCF to go 13-18 from the line in the first half.
Missouri's offense looked iffy but sustainable through the early going, but when UCF changed its defensive look midway through the first half, the Tigers hit a wall, flummoxed by the Knights' 2-3 zone. Too often, the ball rotated around the perimeter and went inside to a forward in the post, but then came right back outside within seconds. The Tigers seemed to have little sense of what to do when doubled by two UCF defenders, resulting in six first-half turnovers.
Missouri's struggles were compounded by Tilmon's first-half absence, as his two fouls within the game's first five minutes had him sitting on the bench, again.
Then came the adjustments. UCF switched back to its man-to-man defense when the second half began, which allowed Missouri's offense to gain some traction. After shooting a meager 23 percent in the first half, Missouri found consistency in the second, particularly from the three-point line. Led by Geist, who went 5-8 from three, the Tigers shot 58 percent from beyond the arc in the second half.
"Some of those shots are going to start to fall," UCF coach Johnny Dawkins said. "They have good basketball players. They're a good team. They played very tough, and they made it difficult for us defensively."
The offense wasn't the only thing that improved drastically in the second half. After those 12 first-half fouls, the Tigers tightened it up in the second, committing just seven more.
But even as Missouri's play straightened out in the second half, it still had much left to prove. The game was eerily similar to the loss to last Tuesday, when the Tigers improved after halftime but were unable to climb all the way back. UCF's Aubrey Dawkins did his best to keep Missouri at bay with a game-high 22 points.
It appeared Sunday's game was heading that way when, with 13.8 seconds left and the team trailing 55-54, Pickett was unable to inbound the ball for a final possession and turned it over.
However, after Dawkins hit two free throws to make it a three-point game, the Knights were content with Geist taking a final shot — a decision they surely regret now.
Missouri will look to follow up Sunday's quality win when it hosts UT Arlington at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.