This was expected to be a dangerous game for Missouri (16-8, 6-5 SEC), but it found itself in danger of getting run out of the gym Tuesday night.
Following a jumper, 3-pointer, and dunk by Mississippi (11-13, 4-7) guard Terence Davis, Mizzou found itself behind 11-0. The Tigers missed their first four shots, and committed four turnovers before they managed to score a point.
Missouri had to rally behind huge performances by Kassius Robertson and Jontay Porter to defeat Mississippi 75-69. Robertson scored 27 points and hit five 3s, while Porter put up 18 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocks.
“The great thing about Jontay is not so much his production as far as points,” said Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin at the post-game press conference. “When you look at his numbers, you say 18 points, it’s the other things: a big block, passing the ball to the right guy, he can drive...it’s a lot of other things he brings to the table, it’s not just the scoring.”
Robertson was who finally ended the scoring drought for Missouri with an and-1 layup, but it was Porter who really turned things around.
The freshman forward hit a three, Jeremiah Tilmon slammed home a dunk that Porter assisted on, and then Porter added a dunk of his own to bring Mizzou within three points. After a couple baskets by the Rebels, Jordan Geist tied the game at 17 on a three and fastbreak lay-in.
Porter made a couple free throws, knocked down a jumper, and swished a 3-pointer to give Mizzou a 24-20 lead. His teammates took it from there.
Back-to-back Robertson triples made it a double-digit game once again, this time in favor of the Tigers. Missouri would go on to make four of its last seven shots, and led the Rebels by nine at halftime.
Unfortunately for Mizzou, its tendencies from the start of the contest returned following the intermission. It turned the ball over on its first two possessions, and didn’t score for almost three minutes.
“I just think that’s a product of having a good coach,” said Martin when asked about how Mississippi responded, complimenting coach Andy Kennedy. “It seemed like there was a lot of chaos and noise for our guys.”
By the time the Tigers offense settled, Mississippi was already rolling. The Rebels outscored Missouri 15-6 to begin the second half, and knotted things up at 46 on a Breein Tyree 3-pointer.
Robertson decided to take things into his own hands, scoring the next nine points for Mizzou. For every basket by the graduate transfer, though, Mississippi seemed to have an answer. The Tigers’ interior defense had fallen apart, and the Rebels were getting into the lane with ease.
Tilmon picked up his third foul with 10 minutes left and was struggling, having scored just two points on one for six shooting. Porter was playing incredible in contrast, but was neutralized with his fourth foul only a minute after Tilmon came out.
Just when Missouri needed to stop the bleeding inside, it was rendered relatively helpless by losing its top two interior defenders to foul trouble. It was on Robertson to answer the Rebels’ scoring, and he answered the call.
Roberton nailed a huge 3-pointer with about seven minutes left, pushing Mizzou ahead for the first time since Mississippi initially tied the game. After the lead was exchanged a couple times, Robertson hit yet another one.
With Tilmon and Porter out, and Jordan Barnett seemingly incapable of making a shot, the Tigers’ offense was reduced to giving it to Robertson and letting him figure it out. Three minutes were left in the game, however, and he needed some help.
Martin’s hand was forced, he had to put Porter back in. It almost immediately paid dividends, as Porter blocked a shot, secured the rebound, and laid it home on the other end. A rough night for Barnett continued as he fouled Tyree on a three, and Dominik Olejniczak made it even for Mississippi again with a jumper.
Kevin Puryear continued one of his best games in SEC play, and came up big by making two free throws to put Missouri back ahead. The junior forward finished with 12 points while missing just one shot, and grabbed six boards.
Porter secured the rebound after a Rebels miss, but turned it right back over as he attempted to hand the ball off to Robertson. Mississippi went on to miss, and Porter got fouled, but he split the free throws.
The Rebels failed to capitalize once again, and Mizzou played the free throw game from there. “We did the right things down the stretch,” Martin said. “I’m so proud of our growth down the stretch of games. The composure to get the stops and execute what we’re trying to do.”
The Tigers host Mississippi State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and will look to avenge a 74-62 loss on Jan. 27.