COLUMBIA, Mo. — Almost one year ago to this date, the Missouri Tigers saw themselves in a similarly hopeless situation as this year’s Missouri squad. On February 13, 2016, the Tigers 8-16 overall, 1-10 in Southeastern Conference play, and had lost nine straight games.
One of the lone bright spots in Missouri’s 2015-16 season came that Saturday night in a victory over Tennessee in the first annual Rally for Rhyan night. Proceeds from the event went to pediatric cancer research and the event supported Rhyan Loos, the daughter of Mizzou assistant coach Brad Loos, and her battle with cancer.
Mizzou came into Saturday night’s Rally for Rhyan contest against Arkansas with a 5-16 record (0-9 in SEC play) and a school record-tying 13-game losing streak. In a valiant, down-to-the-wire effort, the Tigers were able to snap their long losing skid with an 83-78 over the visiting Razorbacks at Mizzou Arena.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “Forty eight hours ago we got beat by 39 points by Florida. They have been resilient all year and they just haven’t had the success that they deserved. Today, they played to win as opposed to playing not to lose. It certainly was a good basketball game.”
Everything about this game seemed storybook-worthy. Missouri started the contest up 10-5 and from then on, the 11,434 at Mizzou Arena sensed a victory. A relatively full student section packed the frequently empty seats behind the west basket and created an honorable home-court advantage that Missouri hasn’t often played behind this season.
The first half saw the Tigers go on a 12-0 run and maintain a lead throughout the period. Mizzou used a 61.5 percent shooting clip to propel itself to a 47-34 halftime lead.
However, the Tigers knew that an Arkansas run was coming. The Razorbacks own a plethora of scoring options, four of whom post double-digit scoring averages.
“I told them at halftime. I said ‘look they’re going to make a run,’” Anderson said. “They’re a good team. Twenty points is nothing to them.”
Missouri held it’s own in the beginning of the second half. But the Razorbacks struck with a 10-0 run to cut the Tiger lead to just five with 12:35 left in the second half. Arkansas continued to chip away and came within a point down the stretch. The Tigers and Razorbacks traded baskets all the way until the end.
Through a spark of resilience that hadn’t yet turned out a victory in SEC play, Mizzou was able to propel itself to its first victory since December 6 against Miami (Ohio).
“These guys have worked really hard,” Anderson said. “The one thing we talked about in the final timeout was ‘let’s play to win, guys. … Let’s not play to lose.’”
Anderson and his players emphasized Missouri’s blowout 93-54 loss to Florida on Thursday as a source for motivation against Arkansas. The defeat at the hands of the Gators marked the most lopsided loss of the season, a game in which the Tigers shot just 30.2 percent.
Missouri flipped the switch on a poor season of shooting, firing at a conference-high rate of 50.9 percent. Jordan Barnett (17 points), K.J. Walton (16), Kevin Puryear (15) and Cullen VanLeer (12) all scored in double-digits. On top of that, the palpable energy spread onto the floor, where Mizzou showed an extra burst of hustle.
“For some reason, it seemed like they found some extra energy,” said Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, whose team fell to 17-6 overall and 6-4 in SEC games. “Give them credit, they didn’t stop playing and we came up short.”
Much of the energy could be attributed to the game’s greater significance: fundraising for pediatric cancer. In the deep depths of the SEC’s cellar, Mizzou has fed off the Rally for Rhyan nights two years in a row.
“I tell you what, Rhyan is undefeated isn’t she,” Loos said. “It’s obviously special and it obviously means a lot to me and my family.”
Missouri (6-16, 1-9) will return to the court on Wednesday at Texas A&M at 7:30 p.m. CT before returning home next Saturday to host Vanderbilt.
You can follow Charlie Clarke on Twitter at @CWClarke18.
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