Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Coming off their 13th consecutive loss, the Missouri Tigers didn’t call a team meeting. They didn’t work up a secret formula or sing “Kumbaya” or spend extra hours in practice.
Instead, when the Tigers took the court Tuesday against Florida in front of a smaller Mizzou Arena crowd, they did what they had failed to do all season long.
“We just grew up today,” freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar said.
Missouri ended the worst losing streak in school history behind strong performances from its freshmen — none stronger than Namon Wright, who made 10-of-13 shots to score a career-high 28 points in a 64-52 defeat of Florida.
“If there’s a team in our league that you would say could kind of maybe fall apart, it would be these guys with their record,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “But I don’t think their record is indicative of the job (first-year Missouri coach Kim Anderson) has done with a lot of young guys.”
Wright’s 28 points were the most by a Missouri player this season.
“Tonight he was a hard matchup for us,” Donovan said. “We really didn’t have anybody that could stop him.”
Wright didn’t take long to get going, scoring seven of Missouri’s first nine points. In fact, the whole team started hot, making seven of its first 11 shots. Tigers entered the game shooting 41 percent from the field, second-worst in the SEC.
The Gators got in on the action early, too, making four of their first six shots.
The Tigers went on an 8-0 run to take a 14-8 lead but both teams cooled off as the half progressed. Missouri went on a 5:11 scoring drought at one point, but Florida missed six-of-eight shots during that stretch and could only manage a 5-0 run to tie the game at 21.
Wright ended the drought with a 3-pointer, but the Gators went on a 10-1 run and took the lead for the first time since less than five minutes into the game. Wright broke the run with a basket with 14 seconds to play before halftime. He led all scorers with 12 points in the first half and had five of Missouri’s 10 field goals in the half on just seven attempts.
“I just felt confident today, and we were having fun out there,” Wright said. “Teammates were finding each other, and we got the W, so that’s fun.”
The second half was a similar story, with Wright scoring eight points in the first 2:14. His 21st point gave Missouri its first lead in more than six minutes, though it lasted just 13 seconds.
Florida went on a 9-0 run to take its largest lead of the game at 44-37.
Keanau Post answered with an inside shot and Wright hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game, and suddenly Missouri was on a run of its own.
Wright ended the game with six 3s, the most by a Tiger this season, and didn’t miss a shot in the second half until heaving up a desperation 3 with the shot clock expiring.
“Whenever he got open, we just gave him the ball,” Gill-Caesar said of Wright. “I was actually questioning whether he was going to miss tonight or not.”
Gill-Caesar gave Wright some help on the run when he scored four straight points at one point. Fellow freshman Jakeenan Gant joined the fun as well, getting one of his three blocks on the defensive end and answering with an alley-oop dunk via Keith Shamburger on the other.
Florida went 7:05 without a field goal during Missouri’s surge and turned the ball over three times.
Florida continued to shoot itself in the foot, getting called for a technical and missing 11 free throws in the second half. Missouri, on the other hand, hit nine of its last 10 free-throw attempts — seven from Shamburger.
The win was Missouri’s first since Jan. 8 when the Tigers defeated LSU in their Southeastern Conference opener.
“Maybe these guys, (today) they can walk around campus and take their hats off and not have their ski mask over their face and be proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Anderson said.
Missouri returns to the court Saturday at Georgia.