A player sometimes known for being uber-aggressive on offense, Jeremiah Tilmon knew that wouldn't be a successful strategy in this game. Not against the man anchoring the paint for Central Florida.
Carefully backing towards the basket, Tilmon waited for his moment. When he felt just a little bit of room, he spun around and put in a crafty sky hook over the outstretched arm of UCF's 7-foot-6 behemoth, Tacko Fall.
"He's the bigger player, so I had to play smart," Tilmon said.
The basket gave the Tigers a two-point lead with 1:35 remaining in overtime. It was the final time either team scored on Sunday. Missouri (4-3) contained the giant Fall en route to a 64-62 overtime victory over UCF (6-2), limiting the big man to six points and four rebounds.
"I thought we did a great job against him," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.
In pregame warmups, many of the fans who were already in their seats whipped out their phones to snap a picture. Even on a basketball court filled with tall people, Fall stood out like a sore thumb.
"Man, he's a giant. I'm 6-10, and I walk by him, and I'm looking up at him," Mitchell Smith said. "He's a good player. (I have) tremendous respect for him, but he's hard. You gotta float even higher then you would usually if you want a shot against him."
A favorite target of The Antlers, Fall was the center of attention from the student section before the game; and nothing about that changed after the opening tipoff, which he won against Tilmon.
Fall is a solid offensive player who ranked third on the Knights in scoring coming into the contest (11.4 points per game). He's also quite efficient, as he brought a 77 percent field goal percentage into Mizzou Arena.
From a defensive standpoint, the matchup with Fall went about as well as the Tigers could have hoped. Despite playing a season-high 37 minutes, Fall was mostly a non-factor offensively. This, in spite of Martin saying that preparing for Fall was difficult.
"It's hard when you're in practice to say, 'Okay, Reed Nikko, you're Tacko Fall today,'" Martin said.
Fall was his usual efficient self, making all three of his field goal attempts, but he never found any rhythm or momentum. Missouri also avoided bailing Fall out with fouls, as the Tigers held him to just three free throw attempts. A 27 percent foul shooter coming in, Fall missed all of them.
The Tigers frequently brought double-teams, and Fall struggled to find the open man, finishing with 0 assists and 3 turnovers.
Trying to score as he anchored the paint was another matter for Missouri, however.
Tilmon picked up two quick fouls before the first media timeout of the game, sending the sophomore to the bench for the rest of the half. This put increased pressure on Kevin Puryear, Nikko and Smith to score effectively as Fall stood guard.
Late in the first half, Nikko decided to try a bold strategy. He drove right into Fall and forced a shot past him. This did not work out well for the 6-10 Nikko, whose shot was swatted away for one of Fall's career-high six blocks. On the very next possession, Fall decided to teach Nikko a lesson, doing the same thing right back at him, easily placing the ball in the basket. Perhaps, in a battle of who can score directly over whom, the advantage goes to the man who's eight inches taller.
The Tigers probably figured they should look elsewhere for holes in UCF's defense, so they did.
After a pretty spin move, Puryear had his normal-sized defender, 6-9 Chad Brown, beat. Unfortunately for Puryear, when facing the Knights' defense, beating your man won't always do the job. Fall was waiting, and Puryear's shot was on a platter for Fall to swat away.
When Tilmon returned in the second half, the tables turned in the Tigers' favor.
The paint had been on lockdown all game, but Tilmon had something to say about that. As Tilmon proved in what ended up being the game-winning basket, Fall could in fact be beat.
Like Tilmon said, he'd just have to play smart.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.