Two free throws by Kassius Robertson seemed to ice the game. The senior had been lights out during the last five games, averaging over 21 points, and that didn’t change on Saturday. “Kash Money” dropped 22 points, and the free throws, with 1:37 remaining, put Mizzou up 12 over Mississippi State.
Then things got strange. The Tigers gave up 17 consecutive points ... and then won anyway.
In the third-annual Rally for Rhyan game, MSU scored the final 12 points of regulation to force overtime, then scored the first five points of the bonus session as well. But Mizzou went on a 10-1 run over the final 2:40 of overtime to seal a wild 89-85 win.
“It was tough,” Kevin Puryear said. “They had lots of momentum. For us to come out and be gritty and resilient, it really says a lot about the group of guys that we have. It wasn’t the prettiest toward the end of the game, but we got it done. At the end of the day, it was a win for Mizzou.”
Whew. Let’s start from the beginning.
Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6 SEC) has shot just 29 percent as a team from 3-point range this year but started the game unusually hot. The Bulldogs nailed three consecutive triples to take an early 9-3 lead. Missouri (17-8, 7-5) answered with an 8-0 run, though, keyed by a Jordan Barnett four-point play.
MSU’s shooting touch didn’t wear off, as Xavian Stapleton converted a four-point play of his own before draining an additional 3-pointer to retake the lead. His shot through the foul was particularly costly for the Tigers, as it gave Jontay Porter his second foul not even six minutes into the game.
Both teams traded the lead before some gorgeous ball movement by Mizzou ended with a Robertson three. Jeremiah Tilmon secured a one-handed offensive rebound and faked out a Bulldog defender with an up-and-under to push the lead to three points.
Following a Quinndary Weatherspoon layup, Missouri went on a 7-0 run (with five from Robertson) to make it 32-24. Geist hit a three with 21 seconds left in the half to push the lead to 12, but Nick Weatherspoon answered with a triple of his own as the buzzer sounded.
Despite an almost perfect offensive first half, Missouri’s lead was only single digits because of how money MSU had been from long range. The Bulldogs averaged just 6.4 threes coming into the game but made seven in the first half alone on 14 attempts.
Early in the second half it was foul trouble, not threes, that plagued the Tigers. Both Tilmon and Porter picked up their respective third fouls less than three minutes into the period, and MSU cut the lead to five.
Geist nailed another timely 3-pointer to put a temporary halt to the Bulldogs’ momentum, but Mizzou’s offense had grown stagnant. Nick Weatherspoon ripped off a self-engineered 7-0 run, and suddenly MSU trailed by just one.
Porter made a three from the top of the key, and then Robertson hit a huge triple off the dribble. On the ensuing inbounds, Geist stole the ball and hit both free throws after getting fouled to put Missouri back up eight in about 90 seconds.
All game long, Missouri went on various scoring runs and dry-spells. MSU cut the lead to three again during a four-minute Mizzou drought, but two Tilmon buckets and a nasty two-handed slam by Barnett put Mizzou up seven.
Barnett got fouled on a 3-pointer after a miss by the Bulldogs, and made all three free throws to make it 73-63. It was 79-67 when MSU’s run began. Mizzou turned the ball over three times and missed two shots, allowing the Bulldogs to charge back.
“Taking the ball out of bounds, you can draw up 60 different plays, but I’ve always been a guy ‘I’m coming to get the ball and I’m getting open,’” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “You’ve got to be willing to get the ball. You’re not going to stop me from getting the ball, if you don’t have a guy in front of me or behind me, you’re not doing it. It’s just that simple.”
After falling behind by five points in the extra period, Missouri cut the deficit down to two points with three straight free throws. Puryear tied it at 84 with a tip-in.
MSU took the lead on a free throw, but then Puryear, who came into the game having hit 26 percent of his 3-pointers for the season, knocked down the game-winning three from the left corner.
KEVIN PURYEAR, YOU BAD MAN pic.twitter.com/MT4swuolQS— Barstool Mizzou (@BarstoolMizzou) February 10, 2018
After a push-off foul by Tyson Carter, a couple of Robertson free throws made it official. “I didn’t sell it at all,” said Geist when asked about the foul. “He pushed off.”
Rhyan Loos remains undefeated. pic.twitter.com/mT4eF3vsEQ— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) February 10, 2018
Also, #Mizzou hoops helped raise $1.75 million for hurricane relief and 60k for childhood cancer research today. Mizzou fans are the best— Shawn Davis (@ShawnDizzle77) February 10, 2018
“For sure,” said Puryear when asked if his shot carried more significance with it being the Rally for Rhyan game. “Coach (Brad) Loos was the one that really recruited me here. (He) called me frequently, and (I) really got to build a really close relationship with him. Any time I can give him support, it’s just really big. It was just a great showing today.”
Missouri hosts Texas A&M (16-8, 5-6) at 6 p.m. Tuesday and will look to avenge a road loss once again. The Tigers currently hold lone possession of fourth place in the SEC, and have the tiebreaker over both Kentucky and Alabama.
“I’ve never debated whether or not we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” said a confident and emphatic Martin. “When you talk about one of the better teams in the country, that’s not a debate. We are one of those teams. It’s not a case of we’re scratching and clawing every game. We’re not pressing, I’m not talking about that, because we’re already that.”