No. 3 Tennessee too much for Missouri in SEC opener

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Kevin Puryear drove to the basket with reckless abandon. Nothing was going to stop him as he slammed home a dunk.

The basket brought the Mizzou Arena crowd of 10,165 to its feet, giving Missouri a 27-18 lead over No. 3 Tennessee with seven minutes and four seconds remaining in the first half.

“(Missouri) came out, and they punched us early,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “There’s no doubt, and it was good for our team.”

From there, the Volunteers flexed their muscles and showed exactly why they’re considered one of handful of national championship contenders this season.

Tennessee (13-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) finished the first half on a 22-4 run, took an 11-point lead into halftime and never looked back, defeating Missouri 87-63 on Tuesday night. The Volunteers did not allow Missouri (9-4, 0-1) to get back within single-digits the rest of the night, and the win extended the Vols’ winning streak to nine games.

Grant Williams, who came into the game as the SEC’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, was held to just four points. The preseason SEC Player of the Year wound up fouling out and played just 22 minutes.

“I thought we did a good job (guarding Williams) as a team,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I mean, we held him 1-for-8 (from the field), but it just shows you the level of team they have.”

Jordan Bowden led all scorers with 20 points, while three others scored in double figures for Tennessee. Led by Bowden, Tennessee’s bench outscored Missouri’s 33-24.

Xavier Pinson led Missouri with a career-high 14 points off the bench, and Jordan Geist added 12 points, all of which came in the first half.

The Tigers struggled to get stops and allowed the most points they have all season.

“I think we just had some mental lapses, defensively,” senior Kevin Puryear said. “Defensively, I don’t think we were the team we have been these past six games, and you’ve got to be better, especially against the No. 3 team in the country.”

The Tigers got off to a hot start offensively, and in fact, when Missouri took a 2-0 lead on the game’s first possession, it marked the first time Tennessee had trailed in the last 111 minutes of game action.

But Missouri was shorthanded almost immediately when sophomore center Jeremiah Tilmon committed an offensive foul while dealing with a double-team, and then immediately received a technical foul. With 17 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first half, Tilmon headed to the bench with two early fouls.

Reed Nikko took Tilmon’s place on the floor, and with his team needing him to step up, Nikko simply did not. The big junior scored two points and did not pick up a rebound in 15 minutes on the court. Nikko also coughed up three turnovers.

Nikko was also a part of Missouri’s porous interior defense, which allowed Tennessee to score 40 points in the paint. Missouri was outrebounded 38-29, and forward Kyle Alexander pulled down 17 rebounds of them to go along with his 14 points and three blocks.

“We weren’t as aggressive defensively,” Martin said. “I thought we had the right lineups on the floor ... to make (Tennessee) drive to our bigs, and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

Soon after, Mark Smith committed his second personal foul of the first half, sending him to the bench. With two of Missouri’s three leading scorers in foul trouble, Jordan Geist, the third member of that trio, had to pick up the slack.

Geist scored 12 points in what was a roller coaster of a half, chock full of large runs and plenty more whistles. But he also shot 3-for-10 from the field in the period, as well as 2-for-8 from deep.

Tennessee and Missouri traded runs, with an 8-2 Tigers’ stretch — capped by Puryear’s dunk — giving Missouri a working 27-18 lead.

Missouri committed 11 fouls in the first half, and Tennessee took advantage, shooting 11-for-12 from the line in the period.

In the second half, the Tigers desperately needed Smith and Tilmon to get involved. Smith did, with five quick points in the half’s first four minutes.

But Tilmon committed his third foul just 46 seconds into the half. Then, with 12 minutes, 55 seconds remaining, Tilmon picked up his fourth and headed back to the bench.

The Vols further bolstered their lead, shooting 10 of 14 from the field to open the half and pushing it to 65-46 with 11:15 remaining.

Five minutes later, Tilmon hooked his arm around a Tennessee defender and fouling out of the game. The sophomore scored just three points and brought down only one rebound in nine minutes on the court.

The Vols finished the game strong, raising their lead as high as the 24-point advantage they ended the contest with. Admiral Schofield, the SEC’s third-leading scorer, put up 13 points in the second half and finished with 16 for the night after a quiet first half.

Missouri returns to action at South Carolina, with tipoff set for noon Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.

Supervising editors are Reed Koutelas and Keegan Pope.

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