College Sports

Metro-east connection, Pickett and Tilmon, get last laugh on booing Illini fans

Cuonzo, Pickett and Tilmon talk Braggin’ Rights

Cuonzo Martin, Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett -- all products of the metro-east -- talk about the Missouri Tigers' Braggin' Rights win over Illinois at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis Saturday.
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Cuonzo Martin, Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett -- all products of the metro-east -- talk about the Missouri Tigers' Braggin' Rights win over Illinois at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis Saturday.

As he did so many times during his all-state career as a member of the Belleville East Lancers, Javon Pickett hit big shot after big shot to help his team win a basketball game.

Only this time, the 6-4 Pickett did it while playing before a capacity crowd at the Enterprise Center as a member of the Missouri Tigers.

Pickett, a freshman at Mizzou, scored a career-high 16 points and combined with two other former metro-east standouts — Jeremiah Tilmon of East St. Louis and Mark Smith of Edwardsville — for 37 points as Missouri ended a five-game skid in the Braggin’ Rights game with a 79-63 win over Illinois.

Soft-spoken, Pickett seemed comfortable as Tilmon, a sophomore center who was on the losing end of the annual battle a year ago, handled the majority of questions in the post-game press conference.

After leaving the game to a huge ovation from the Tigers fans with less than a minute remaining, Pickett, a 2017 East graduate, screamed in the middle of the Enterprise Center Court as the Tigers celebrated.

“There was really nothing else to do,’’ Pickett said. “A lot of guys were screaming and having fun. I did too.

“I was just trying to do my part to help us win the basketball game. That’s all. I was in the right place and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball where I could to be successful. It was a total team effort.’’

A third-team all-state player as a senior at Belleville East when he averaged nearly 26 points and 7 rebounds per gamne, Pickett was nearly perfect on Saturday.

Connecting on all three of his first half shots, Pickett keyed a late comeback with a three-point jumper as the Tigers (8-4) rallied to take a 39-35 lead. When Tilmon, who was battling the flu, scored twice in the early moments of the second half, the Tigers extended the lead.

“Javon has done everything we’ve asked of him. He’s a tough kid who has played very well since he got here,’’ Missouri coach and East St. Louis native Cuonzo Martin said.

Tilmon would finish with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Pickett, meanwhile connected on 7-of-8 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from behind the 3-point line.

Tilmon, the 6-10, 255-pound center from East Side, dominated down low despite battling flu like symptoms.

“I didn’t feel the best, but I knew my team needed me and I wanted to play,’’ Tilmon said.. “I was just challenging myself. I wasn’t going to not play knowing that I could go out there and still go out there and fight.’’

Like Tilmon, Pickett originally committed to Illinois, but changed his course with the firing of former Illinois coach John Groce. On Saturday, he made Illinois fans wish he was wearing orange instead of black and gold.

All three former metro east area standouts were in Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin’s starting lineup on Saturday and all three were booed throughout the contest by Illinois fans.

“They responded well and while Mark (Smith) had an off night shooting the basketball he still had a key role for us,’’ Martin said. “We used him as kind of decoy.

“He’s leading the Southeastern Conference (in 3-point field goal shooting) at over 40 percent. Teams have respect his ability and I think it opened some things up for us.’’

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Mizzou L-R Mark Smith, Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett as seen prior to Saturday’s NCAA Braggin’ Rights game between the Missouri Tigers and the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Enterprise Center in Saint Louis Missouri. Jimmy J Simmons

Smith, who averaged 21.9 points and 8.4 assists a game in his senior season at Edwardsville, was the best player in the state during the 2016-17 season while leading the Tigers to the Southwestern Conference title and a record of 30-2. He was voted Illinois Mr. Basketball and was the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year.

One of the most highly recruited players in the Midwest, Smith chose to stay in state and play at Illinois where he saw significant playing time early in his freshman season. Smith scored in double figures seven times, including an 11 point effort in Illinois ‘Bragging Rights’’ game win a year ago.

Pickett, making his 11th start of the season and Tilmon made their presence known late in the first half as the Tigers erased a 32-27 lead to take a 39-35 lead at halftime.

Pickett, averaging 6.6 points in his freshman season, connected on a 3-point shot and Tilmon followed with a tip in basket to tie the game at 32. Later, Pickett worked the give-and-go to Reed Nikko who followed with a two-hand dunk to put Missouri up.

The Tigers metro east connection tallied 17 of Missouri’s 39 first half points.