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Missouri ends yet another losing streak, takes down ranked Tennessee

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Here are today’s Mizzou Links.

Woohoo!

Plenty to get to from Mizzou’s 59-55 win over Tennessee, and Sam and I will have stuff lined up for later in the day. But in the meantime, the basics:

Another losing streak down the drain.

Before Wednesday, not a single current Missouri player was on the roster the last time the Tigers toppled a nationally ranked team more than four years ago. Heck, freshman power forward Jontay Porter had just turned 14 when Mizzou upended No. 18 UCLA on Dec. 7, 2013.

Since that afternoon home victory over the Bruins, the end of the Frank Haith regime had passed, plus the entire Kim Anderson era, before No. 21 Tennessee visited Mizzou Arena for a crucial midweek Southeastern Conference showdown.

But the streak didn’t live to see another day.

I’ll take your word for it, Cuonzo.

On Wednesday at Mizzou Arena, that came in the form of MU’s first win over a ranked team in 20 tries since Dec. 7, 2013, a 59-55 victory over No. 21 — as it happened — Tennessee.

It was the first time in his head-coaching career that Martin had faced a previous employer.

But that was truly incidental in this, said Martin, who hadn’t coached any of the Tennessee players on the court Wednesday and said “it was just a job and a task at hand.”

Making your freebies makes all the difference.

With the result hanging in the balance and just under two minutes to play, the Tigers were able to put the game away from the free throw line, shooting a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line during clutch time.

Puryear was up first, and sunk a pair from the line with 1:51 to go, giving the Tigers a three-point edge. After a Volunteer bucket, the Tigers and Vols traded empty possessions until there were only 14 seconds remaining in regulation. Tennessee then sent junior guard Jordan Geist (Fort Wayne, Ind.) to the charity stripe, where he calmly hit the two biggest free throws this season so far to extend the Black & Gold lead back to three points. After Tennessee’s James Daniel III split his two attempts from the line, Puryear was again fouled, and he was able to make both of his free throws to ice the game away, putting the Tigers up safely for good.

Winning (mostly) without the 3-ball? Be still, my beating heart.

The Tigers’ shooting struggles continued into the second half. Robertson and Barnett both had wide-open shots rim out from inside the paint and three-point territory. But they returned the favor on the defensive end as the Volunteers also struggled from deep. For the game, Tennessee shot 23.8 percent from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t shoot it extremely well,” Robertson said. “We won that game on the defensive end. We struggled from three, but we made them struggle from three as well.”

Nice step forward for the defense.

How did Missouri win despite making its least amount of 3s against a Division I team this year? Senior guard Kassius Robertson was adamant about his answer.

“We play defense, man. We are tough,” Robertson said. “We are a good defensive team. Coach is always beating us down for playing defense and stuff, especially me. We play defense.”

Puryear back!

The points were Puryear’s 11th and 12th of the night, capping a double-double and ending an eight game stretch in which he had failed to reach double figures. Martin recently brought him off the bench, replacing him in the starting lineup with Jontay Porter.

“I’ve been doing a lot better,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of trust in Coach Martin and what he wants. My job is just to go in there and play as hard as I can play, play at a high level and everything will take care of itself.

Now do even more, Kevin.

“I’m happy we won the game, but I think (Puryear) is capable of performing like that (every night),” first-year Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after the win.

For the first time in Southeastern Conference play, Puryear scored in double digits. Not only did he finish with 12 points, but he also garnered a season-high 10 rebounds.

“Big moment for Mizzou basketball, and big moment for this team,” Puryear said, “especially for the guys that were returning.”

With the win, Mizzou is now up to 37th in the KenPom ratings, the Tigers’ highest ranking since March 2013. They remain 22nd on offense but have now risen back to 85th on defense. Oh yeah, and they’re projected to go 20-11 and 10-8 in SEC play. And they’ve done it without Michael Porter Jr.*. Goodness.

* So far.


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