The Tigers knew it would take a special effort to oust the undefeated Northern Illinois Huskies. Fueled by the freshman energy, Mizzou grinded its way to a 78-71 win at Mizzou Arena last night, moving to 4-3 on the season.
Early threes from Terrence Phillips and Wes Clark catapulted Missouri to a quick 12-0 lead. The Huskies missed their first ten shots and posted a first half shooting percentage of just 27.6%
“We didn’t get off to the best start,” said NIU coach Mark Montgomery. “But credit Missouri’s defense.”
Northern Illinois slowed down the pace, however, and launched themselves back in the game, grabbing a 24-22 lead with 1:47 to go in the first half. At the break, Missouri grasped a tight 27-26 edge over NIU.
The second half was closely contested when Missouri began an 8-0 run at the 8:53 mark. The run commenced with a broken possession that stayed intact by hustle plays, resulting in a Tramaine Isabell three-pointer. With the crowd on their feet, Cullen VanLeer swiped the ball and dished it up to Terrence Phillps for a layup and the foul.
On the following defensive posession, Jakeenan Gant snagged the ball, ran the floor, and earned an and-one of his own. The 6,214 in attendance stood up and roared for the 6’8 sophomore.
“I’m just really happy for him,” said Mizzou coach Kim Anderson on Gant. “I’m really happy to see him have some success.”
The Tigers protected the lead until the final buzzer. Kevin Puryear’s late production guided him to the top scoring spot for Mizzou, as he dropped in 17 points. Wes Clark and Ryan Rosburg each clawed seven boards while Terrence Phillips dished out six assists. Freshman Marshawn Wilson led the Huskies with 24 points.
“This was a good win for us,” said Kim Anderson following the victory. “Northern Illinois is a good team.”
The Tigers will return to Mizzou Arena Wednesday night at 7:00 PM when they take on the 3-4 Omaha Mavericks. Following that matchup, Missouri will travel to Tucson, AZ, where they’ll encounter a difficult road match against the Arizona Wildcats.