KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mired in a slump the past couple of games, Xavier Pinson was due for a breakout performance.
Missouri’s junior point guard cranked up the intensity Saturday night, scoring 27 points to lead the 19th-ranked Tigers to a 73-64 win over No. 6 Tennessee.
It was Missouri’s first win in Knoxville since 1972.
“Pinson controlled the game,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They came out tonight saying, ‘We’re gonna go at it.’”
Pinson became the first opponent to score more than 20 points against the Volunteers this season. Dru Smith added 18 for the Tigers (10-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference).
“I thought (Pinson) played well,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He was able to get downhill, get the ball in the paint. He was aggressive going north and south. When he goes east and west, he’s not effective.”
Yves Pons paced Tennessee (10-3, 4-3) with 20 points. Victor Bailey and Josiah-Jordan James each scored 12 for the Vols, who have lost their last two games.
Tennessee played without freshman standout Jaden Springer, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
“I’m not concerned about our defense as much as I am about our offense,” Barnes said. “All the pressure is on our offense. Our defense feeds off the offense.”
Bailey’s 3-pointer shortly after halftime cut Missouri’s lead to 44-40. That’s when the Tigers went on a 9-2 run, keyed by a 3-pointer from Kobe Brown.
Pinson scored 19 points in the first half — including three 3-pointers — to lead Missouri to a 40-34 advantage. Smith had 13 before the break.
“Dru’s been playing at a high level the past few games,” Martin said. “He shot great.”
The opening period was an uphill battle from the start for the Vols. They committed three turnovers before scoring a point and trailed 17-5 by the midway point. Pons was the only effective scorer for Tennessee with 15.
Tennessee narrowed the gap to 32-29, but couldn’t get any closer before halftime.
Back on Dec. 30 at Missouri, the Volunteers started strong and never slowed down in a 73-53 win.
The rematch was quite different.
Tennessee committed three turnovers before scoring a point. Missouri seized the opportunity to lead 17-5 and never trailed.
“I give all the credit to Tennessee at our place,” Martin said. “That was a hard pill for me to swallow. Our guys embraced the challenge tonight, got in the passing lanes and were aggressive.
“A top-10 team won the game today. I want to see how we jump (in the polls).”
Missouri turned the ball over 21 times in its loss to Tennessee. This time, the Tigers had just 11 turnovers.
“If we take care of the ball, we’re as good as anyone,” Martin said.
The Vols had 18 turnovers, 10 of which were Missouri steals.
“When you’re behind, you can’t turn the ball over or give up second shots,” Barnes said. “We did both.”
Missouri: Pinson totaled nine points, three assists and nine turnovers in the previous two games. Getting him on track was imperative for the Tigers.
Tennessee: Getting — and keeping — Springer healthy is critical for the Vols going forward. He was limited against Alabama and Florida, both losses, and missed this game entirely.
Missouri: Back-to-back road games will be a challenge. A night game in Knoxville will be followed by a trip to Auburn on Tuesday.
Tennessee: Lessons learned from a blowout loss at Florida last week and Saturday’s tough game with Missouri should be put to use Tuesday at home against Mississippi State.