Cuonzo Martin team do not quit.
We’ve known this since his first season at Missouri, which is why it is so rare for his teams to be blown out.
Tuesday night, Missouri was well on its way to a certified ass-kicking at the hands of Anthony Edwards and the Georgia Bulldogs.
It was ugly and horrible. With 13:33 left, Edwards buried a three pointer and ran back down the court screaming. Georgia was up by 20 points, 59-39. Now, it was ugly and horrible and hopeless.
Missouri picked up its effort on the offensive end, with Dru Smith playing well, Xavier Pinson turning in one of his best efforts in a while, and oh boy was Reed Nikko getting some strong-man buckets.
It wasn’t going to be a blowout, but Georgia still… whoa… hey… MISSOURI IS ONLY DOWN FIVE? WHAT IN THE WORLD? HOW IN THE WORLD?
That’s right, Missouri came back. All the way back. A 27-6 run to take its first lead since before the second media timeout in the first half. Two free throws from, who else, Reed Nikko to put Missouri on top 66-65.
“Reed Nikko changed the game,” Tom Crean said after the game. “You have to recruit the Reed Nikkos of the world, because they don’t grow on trees. It stands out because not everybody has a guy like that.”
Nikko finished with a career high 13 points for Missouri. Pinson and Smith both finished with a team-high 16 points.
Nikko will surely enjoy the praise, and the opportunity to get a poster of him rejecting Edwards, a future NBA draft pick, at the very end, not that those were words I ever thought I would type in a sentence.
“I knew that it was probably going to be him that was going to try and make that basket,” Nikko said. “He’s going up and you’re going up, one of you is going to make the play. I was fortunate enough to be the one that made the play.
Nikko protected the rim, but Edwards arrived there by way of a disastrous collision between Javon Pickett and Pinson.
With both guards down, Edwards, who finished with 23 points, had a clear path to the basket. That path was blocked by Missouri’s most senior player, and on Tuesday, its most clutch player.
For three-fourths of the night Missouri was playing the type of game that made you think “these guys need to be put out of their misery.”
By the time it was all said and done, the Bulldogs were walking off the court with stunned looks on their faces, Missouri had a win it so desperately needed, and Reed Nikko had made the play of his life.
“I needed that to sleep a little bit better,” Cuonzo Martin said.
It was just win number two for the Tigers in the SEC, but it feels monumental, and will be if Missouri can take advantage of three very winnable games sitting in front of them. It wasn’t a flukey comeback at the end. Missouri thoroughly dominated Georgia for the final 10 minutes of the game.
It surrendered a 33-9 lead in the first half, and punched back with a 33-10 run in the second half. “You have to fight,” Martin said. “You have to fight, fight, fight.”
It only truly means something if Missouri can follow it up. It was an unstoppable machine against Florida, only to drop its next four games. If the Tigers follow-up with another string of losses, than Tuesday night becomes nothing more than a fun story to tell for those who witnessed it.
Missouri will look to build on its win in the other Columbia on Saturday. If it gets efforts from Pinson and Nikko like Tuesday night’s, another win might be cooking.