Three observations from Missouri's fourth straight loss at Mississippi State

Missouri’s starting lineup has looked relatively the same throughout the season, but Tuesday night’s game at Mississippi State was a different story.

On one hand, news broke that Mark Smith will miss the rest of the season with foot surgery scheduled for this coming Monday. Freshman Xavier Pinson slotted in for Smith for his seventh start this year.

But the real stunner came when sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon was brought off the bench for the first time in his Missouri career. Tilmon was held out of the starting lineup because of his unsavory hand gesture at Florida on Saturday. Reed Nikko started in his place.

The lineup switch didn’t change the status quo, though, as Missouri lost 68-49 to the Bulldogs and dropped its fourth straight game. The Tigers cut the deficit to five points with 8 minutes, 36 seconds left on a Jordan Geist triple, but Mississippi State followed with a 21-7 run to put the game out of reach.

Here are three takeaways from the Tigers’ loss.

Tilmon’s season is becoming defined by inconsistency

For the first time, Tilmon had a chance to contribute off the bench. Although he scored 11 points, second on the team, his performance wasn’t up to snuff with what Missouri needs from him.

Tilmon shot 30 percent from the field on 10 attempts and turned the ball over twice. He played just 22 minutes due to another night of foul trouble and ultimately fouled out with 2:12 left.

The sophomore has now fouled out in three of the past four games — he had four fouls in the game he didn’t foul out in — and he’s averaged just 7.3 points per game over that stretch.

This slump in production has come right after it seemed Tilmon had turned a corner, when he scored in double figures in five of Missouri’s seven games from Jan. 16 to Feb. 12.

With Smith out of the picture and the lack of contributions from the rest of the frontcourt, Tilmon must be in top form if the Tigers are to win any of their games from now until the end of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

It’s come to the point where the team can’t count on that happening. Although Tilmon’s scoring average has jumped from 8.2 points per game last season to 10.6 this season, the inconsistency has really hurt the Tigeres.

Rebounding is improving

Midway through the season, Missouri’s biggest strength was obvious: 3-point shooting. But because of multiple factors — the absence of Smith, simple regression — the numbers have slipped. After leading the SEC for much of the season, the Tigers now rank fourth in shooting percentage from deep.

But Missouri’s slumping clip from behind the arc has allowed another area to stand out: rebounding.

The Tigers are on a four-game losing skid, but they have out rebounded their opponents in each game. In fact, they’ve netted more rebounds than their opponents in six of the past seven games.

The most clear example came in the Kentucky loss Feb. 19, when Missouri beat one of the most dominant rebounding teams in the country on the glass. Tuesday was another clinic, as the Tigers out rebounded the Bulldogs 39-28.

Despite another lacking performance from Tilmon, he reeled in six boards in limited minutes. Javon Pickett led the team with seven, and Jordan Geist and K.J. Santos both had six.

Obviously, this hasn’t bled into success in the win-loss column, but it’s a significant development nonetheless.

Weakened backcourt

Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Smith missed a game this year, but it might serve as the defining example of what the Tigers’ offense looks like without him.

Missouri scores 66.6 points per game — last in the SEC — but that number includes games when Smith was productive. Against Mississippi State, the Tigers scored a mere 49 points, about 17 points lower than their season average.

Smith’s absence has heavy consequences, such as Torrence Watson’s leading the team in field goal attempts as he did Tuesday. Watson is a talented offensive player, but it’s not great if a freshman is shooting the most, especially one who shoots 37 percent from the field.

Missouri just doesn’t have the talent or depth to replace Smith’s production. Geist can have an occasional 20-point output, but he can also go 3-of-9 from the field as he did against the Bulldogs.

The result is a game in which the Tigers shot 32.7 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from 3. MU won’t shoot that horribly every game, but don’t expect things to get much better.

Supervising editor is Eric Lee.