Mark Smith reintroduced his scoring stroke to the Mizzou Arena crowd Friday night.
The Missouri junior guard erupted for 19 points, including 15 in the first half and four 3-pointers, to lead the Tigers to a 71-56 victory over Northern Kentucky.
Smith led the Southeastern Conference in 3-point shooting last year before a foot injury sidelined him the second half of the season. After an offseason of recovery, the standout didn’t record a point Wednesday when Missouri blew out Incarnate Word 82-42, attempting only four shots in 24 minutes on the floor.
Two nights later, he scored eight points in the first three and a half minutes.
“The first game, I was just excited to be out there with a healthy foot,” Smith said. “I worked hard to get out there. I didn’t shoot the ball as well as I wanted to, but I was just really glad we won. Tonight, I shot the ball well, and I was just happy to make shots to help my team.”
Smith said he went to the Tigers' practice gym three times Thursday alone after his rare scoreless outing.
Just a matter of time, he reminded himself, until the shots would start falling.
“I’ve been confident just because I’ve put in so much work,” he said. “I trust my jump shot.”
It took only 91 seconds for him to find nylon once the game started Friday night. Then points came in bunches.
Not only did Smith show his shooting range, but also an ability to drive toward the basket and finish. His first bucket of the night came on a reverse lay-in. He then added a pair of 3s within a minute of each other as the Tigers built a lead they never relinquished.
“We all know what Mark can do,” said junior teammate Mitchell Smith, who finished Friday’s game with a career-high 10 points and team-leading seven rebounds. “When he gets the ball, he’s going up. I have the most confidence in him. That’s why you see me passing him the ball. I don’t care if he goes 0-for-4 or 0-for-10, I’m gonna give him the next ball for the next shot.”
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said he never directed Mark Smith to shoot more or less entering Friday. Martin simply wanted Smith to be himself.
When opportunity presented itself, the sharpshooter stepped up and let it fly.
“I never worried about Mark’s shot,” Martin said. “I really didn’t, because of the time he puts into it. Whenever he shoots it, I think it’s going in. The biggest thing for me with Mark was not to try and get seven, eight months back in two days. Just let the game come to you.”
Entering a matchup at No. 19 Xavier next Tuesday, the Tigers have plenty of positives to take with them. Jeremiah Tilmon finished with 13 points Friday and stayed out of trouble with only two fouls. Xavier Pinson put together another strong night with eight points and six assists.
But it’s the return to form of Mark Smith that could continue to loom large — both in the early going and once the season reaches SEC play.
“We just need him to do his part,” Martin said. “If he’s healthy, I’m good with Mark."