Missouri sophomore Xavier Pinson didn’t put up the gaudy numbers he produced in recent Southeastern Conference wins against Auburn and Mississippi.
On Wednesday night, the guard ultimately didn’t need to.
Pinson did find ways, however, to continue his hot scoring streak — he averaged 25 points in the Tigers’ previous three games — with a team-high 17 points as Missouri men’s basketball secured a 61-52 victory at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.
With the ball in his hands in the final minute of regulation, Pinson hit two free throws to close out the nine-point victory, all but guaranteeing Missouri would return to .500 overall and pick up its first SEC road win this season. The Tigers (14-14, 6-9 SEC) have eclipsed their win total in league play from a year ago, with three games remaining.
If it wasn’t clear before it is inarguable now: Missouri goes as Pinson goes.
"He did a much better job in the second half," Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought he was a little loose early in the game, so we just took him out to gather himself, settle down, play the game, be aggressive and assertive."
Missouri trailed Vanderbilt 27-18 with 3:59 left in the first half. Scottie Pippen Jr. had 13 points by that time for Vanderbilt and Missouri was reeling, down 11 points.
But the Tigers surged on a 9-1 run to finish the first half down just 28-27.
From there, Pinson took over after only having two points in the first half. He started the second half with seven of Missouri’s first nine points. Pinson went 0-for-2 from the field in the first half with two free throws. He finished the night 6 of 12 from the field, and only Reed Nikko, who set a career-high with 14 points, took more shots.
The Tigers are now 7-1 this season when Pinson scores 14 or more points, which the playmaker has done in five of the past six contests.
"That’s a bad man right there," Nikko said of Pinson. "He’s playing like a bad man right now. Credit to him, he’s worked his butt off to get to this point. He continues to work hard every day. That’s the reason I’m able to score, because him and Dru (Smith) take so much pressure in the pick-and-roll. (The defense) has to pick me or them."
Nikko, who according to Martin was nearly a pregame scratch due to a back injury, finished a perfect 5 of 5 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line after being held to six points Saturday during a loss at Arkansas.
Mitchell Smith’s 3-pointer with 9:30 left against the Commodores brought the score to 47-37, the largest lead of the game for the Tigers. It was the exclamation point on Missouri’s 20-10 run to start the second half.
The Tigers featured balanced scoring behind Pinson and Nikko, with three other players scoring five or more points. Vanderbilt, which relied heavily on Pippen Jr.’s 15 first-half points, got only four points from the star freshman in the second half. The Commodores’ leading scorer this season, Saben Lee, was held to 14 points overall.
Mark Smith and Jeremiah Tilmon both played for Missouri after missing significant time during SEC play. The two combined for seven points and went 3 of 5 from the field.
"For both of those guys, they haven’t been practicing," Martin said. "They might have had a practice here and there, but they haven’t been practicing. … Luckily for us with guys like Reed, Parker (Braun) and Mitch, they’ve done a great job."
Missouri outrebounded Vanderbilt 42-27 and hauled in eight offensive boards that turned into 13 second-chance points. The Commodores finished 55% (16 of 29) from the free-throw line in the defeat.
Vanderbilt (9-19, 1-14) is in jeopardy of a second straight season with a losing record at Memorial Gymnasium after not doing so once in the first 66 years of the venue.
"Sound like a broken record," Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse said. "Did some things in the first half, come out in the second half and didn't execute quite as well on either end offensively or defensively. We were pretty good for most possessions defensively, but we didn't secure the rebound.
"That was probably our biggest nemesis tonight."
The Tigers have won four of their past six games and are scheduled to return home to face Mississippi State (18-10, 9-6) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
The Bulldogs defeated Missouri 72-45 earlier this season.