Reed Nikko blocked a put-back attempt by P.J. Washington and secured the rebound. Missouri had a fast-break opportunity, and then suddenly the whistles sounded.
Jordan Geist boxed out Jarred Vanderbilt, but the Kentucky forward pulled him by his jersey to the floor. Geist got up ready for war, and the two had to be separated by his teammates. Both players were assessed a technical, but Vanderbilt got hit with a flagrant-one foul.
The scrappy play personified the effort that Missouri (15-8, 5-5 SEC) showed in a 69-60 win over No. 21 Kentucky (17-6, 6-4 SEC) on Saturday.
Mizzou put forth one of its best defensive performances of the year, holding the Wildcats to just 31 percent shooting from the field and 2-for-20 shooting from 3-point range. Kentucky secured 20 offensive rebounds, however, and the Tigers committed 20 turnovers that kept the game close.
Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson combined for 32 points, while Kevin Knox was limited to just five. Knox was booed by the fans at Mizzou Arena every time he touched the ball.
“I mean, we locked him up,” said Robertson when asked if the crowd played a factor. “I don’t know if it was the fans or what, but we held him to five points and he’s their leading scorer.”
The win was particularly sweet for Robertson, who scored 16 points in the Canisius’ loss to Kentucky last year. “I didn’t want to jinx myself thinking about it,” Robertson said. “But now I can say I got some revenge for sure, for my guys back in Buffalo.”
Missouri’s freshman big men both had strong showings against a long and lanky Kentucky front. Jeremiah Tilmon and Jontay Porter compiled 22 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks.
Missouri Postgame Reaction 2/3/18
Kevin Puryear: To experience what I experienced the first two years and then to have the type of success that we're having.....it's great. Check out more of Missouri's postgame reaction, after beating Kentucky for the first time in program history 69-60Posted by Rock M Nation on Saturday, February 3, 2018
Six minutes into the game, Missouri’s lone offense had come on two and-1 layups by Kevin Puryear. The Tigers struggled to get any penetration against Kentucky’s length, and their jumpers won’t falling.
Cullen VanLeer drained a three that not only tied the game at nine, but thawed out what had been an ice-cold Mizzou offense. Tilmon knocked down a mid-range jumper before scoring on a put-back, and then Porter stroked a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The 10-0 run put Missouri up seven with about 10 minutes left in the first half, but a quick 5-0 spurt by the Wildcats brought them back within two. Despite shooting terribly, Kentucky had managed to hang around thanks to free throws and Tiger turnovers.
As the half waned, however, Mizzou began to separate itself. Nikko gathered an offensive rebound and finished an easy put-back after a Robertson miss, then Porter hit a mid-range jumper to give the Tigers their largest lead of the night.
Missouri had a chance to extend its lead even further, but it was hit with the free throw bug. Porter missed a pair, then Puryear split two on the possession after a Robertson turnover.
Geist missed one of the free throws for the flagrant on Vanderbilt, and the Tigers ended the half with two consecutive turnovers. Despite a less than ideal finish, Mizzou went into halftime with a 10-point lead. Kentucky shot just 20 percent in the first half, and Knox was held to just one point and one shot attempt.
“We wanted to make him work,” said Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin with a smile and laugh when asked about Knox. On a serious note, Martin applauded VanLeer for his defensive performance on the Kentucky freshman. He stated that VanLeer’s role as a fellow catch-and-shoot player made him more familiar with Knox’s game.
The Wildcats came out of the second-half focused and made five of their first seven shots. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was particularly effective, scoring eight points during a 14-5 Kentucky run. Following a Knox layup to cut his team’s deficit to one, Missouri needed an answer.
Porter made a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key once again, and then scored on a fast-break layup after a VanLeer steal. Barnett made a pair of 3s to put Mizzou back up 10. The Tigers had seen yet another double-digit lead wither away, but this time they had an answer named Barnett.
The senior forward finally missed a three, but then Puryear grabbed the offensive rebound. He promptly dished it back to Barnett, who threw down a two-handed slam on a backdoor cut.
“JB is actually really good at back cutting. Like he’s amazing at it, I really don’t understand,” Puryear said. “I know if I get the rebound and I see him, especially with the way his man was positioned, I knew he was going to back cut.”
Puryear secured yet another big offensive rebound after a Geist miss inside, and Robertson capitalized with a timely 3-pointer.
On the next possession, Barnett used a rare post-up to create some space and made an and-1 mid-range shot to put Missouri up 14 with nine minutes left. The Tigers’ lead wouldn’t fall below seven points until the final minute of the contest, but Mizzou made 13 of 14 free throws down the stretch to keep its distance despite some ball-handling issues.
“We know what we can do,” said Robertson when asked if the win helped the team buy into Martin’s philosophy of defense and rebounding. “We don’t need just these wins to tell us that. I’m confident that we can go up against anybody in the country if we bring it like that every night.”
Missouri travels to Mississippi for a road game against Ole Miss at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. “They always have good guards, physical bigs,” said Martin when asked about Mississippi. “They can make shots, they’ll mix it up defensively (with) zone (and) man, keep you off balance.”