The past week has brought a resurgence for Missouri men’s basketball.
An overtime win over Arkansas kicked it off last weekend. Then the Tigers led for 32 minutes over nationally ranked LSU on Tuesday, only to fall flat in the final few minutes.
Saturday night’s 85-73 victory over No. 11 Auburn may have been the biggest individual step forward of the season.
At the forefront of those three games has been Xavier Pinson. The sophomore guard helped the Tigers contend with two teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament and a rival Razorbacks squad that Missouri will see again next Saturday.
Pinson scored a career-high 28 points in the win over Auburn by finishing 10-for-12 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.
"I’m not even shocked," Pinson said of the victory. "I’m still happy, full of joy."
Pinson’s previous career high in scoring came with 24 against Arkansas, a personal best that lasted all of seven days.
Against LSU, Pinson scored nine points and was sound in other facets of the game, with seven assists and six rebounds.
Pinson and Smith have switched off playing point guard throughout Southeastern Conference play. The differences between the two ball-handlers provides MU an advantage.
"He obviously plays a lot quicker than I do," Smith said of Pinson. "He’s a lot quicker left to right. ... It gives (opponents) different looks. It’s hard to kind of switch because it contrasts each other well."
Smith also had 28 points against Auburn, but Pinson handled a majority of the true point responsibilities. Given Pinson’s speed, Auburn experienced difficulties staying in front of him the entire game.
"You’ve got to be able to get downhill and make plays because they put so much pressure up top, you have to drive the ball," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said of Auburn. "They don’t really allow you to go east-west because they pressure you so much. I thought Dru and X took advantage of that."
Pinson played for the last nine minutes against Auburn with four fouls but didn’t foul out. Martin credits that to Pinson living for the moment of playing against one of the highest-ranked teams in the nation.
Pinson’s role has increased heavily because of injuries to Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith, but even if those two players get back to 100% this season, one thing is for sure about the sophomore.
Pinson’s role won’t fade any time soon.