Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Kim Anderson didn’t know much about Missouri’s next opponent after his team beat Arkansas State other than the fact the Northern Illinois Huskies were undefeated.
That’s a fact he doesn’t need to bother remembering anymore.
The Tigers stayed perfect at home Friday night by giving the Huskies their first loss, 78-71.
Jakeenan Gant set season highs with 11 points and six rebounds. His 66.7 shooting percentage was his best of any game this year in which he’s shot more than twice.
“He made plays,” Anderson said. “He made shots, too, but he made plays, and I think that was critical for us. I thought he gave us a huge lift in the second half when we needed it.”
Gant had struggled this season, making just 2-of-10 shots and pulling in five rebounds coming into the game.
“He’s extremely aggressive, and he tries to make it a point to himself to be aggressive every day,” teammate Kevin Puryear said. “Just his practice habits now — not saying his practices habits were bad, but they’re different now. And I think he’s adjusting to the game, and he’s doing a really good job.”
Puryear scored a team-high 17 points, the most since the season opener for Missouri’s leading scorer. Puryear scored seven straight points for the Tigers in the game’s final 2:30 to close out the win.
For the second straight game, Missouri posted an early-game shutout. Three days after holding Arkansas State scoreless until more than six minutes into the game, Missouri kept Northern off the scoreboard until more than five minutes had passed. At that point, Missouri already had a 12-0 lead built, kickstarted by 3-pointers from Phillips and Wes Clark.
“I thought our start was maybe a little too easy, and they missed some shots,” Anderson said. “I don’t know whether it was our defense or their offense, and then we got kind of stagnant.”
Things got harder for the Tigers, as they scored just 15 points the remaining 15:50 of the first half. A 13-2 run granted the Huskies their first lead of the game at 1:47 in the first half. Turnovers plagued the Tigers, who finished the half with 11.
“We were really sloppy down the stretch, which allowed them to get back in the game,” point guard Terrence Phillips said.
Missouri’s stagnant play continued in the second half. The teams traded runs of four points or less until the Tigers went off for eight straight in a span of 48 seconds to take a 55-46 lead at 8:05.
The run started on a Tramaine Isabell 3 made possible by two Ryan Rosburg offensive rebounds. Then Phillips hit a layup off a Cullen VanLeer steal and Gant scored three the old-fashioned way off a steal of his own.
The Huskies pulled within five points on a Marshawn Wilson 3-pointer with 5:46 to play, a mark they would only reach once more, off a 5-0 spurt in the game’s final minutes.
Wilson led all scorers with a career-high 24 points. Four Huskies scored 10 or more points.
Four Tigers finished the game with four fouls.
The game ended Northern Illinois’ string of seven wins to begin the year, though they came against a relatively soft strength of schedule that included two non-Division I foes.
“Well, last time I checked we were a mid-major school, and to us we play big-time programs at the mid-major level,” Huskies coach Mark Montgomery said. “… You have to play who’s on your schedule. I thought our schedule prepared us for a game like this, and they just made a few more plays than us, and that’s kind of how it works.”
Missouri has now won its last six games at home, dating back to Feb. 24 against Florida, a win that ended a six-game home losing streak.
“We’ve got to protect the home court,” Puryear said. “I’m starting to see more and more fans come to our games, so that’s a great feeling. I keep asking people, it didn’t really look like that last year, so just the change of culture and the change of dynamic of this team is a great thing to really experience.”
New Missouri football coach Barry Odom was introduced to the crowd of 6,214 at halftime.
“(I want to say) how happy I am to have Barry Odom as our football coach,” Anderson said. “That’s just an unbelievable hire by (Missouri director of athletics) Mack (Rhoads) and (deputy director of athletics) Wren (Baker) and everybody, and it’s great to have a fellow alum over there across Providence Road. So I’m excited for him. … I appreciate him being here and really excited to have him as our head football coach.”
Puryear led a balanced scoring effort. Terrence Phillips had 13 points to go with six assists, Jakeenan Gant had 11 points and six rebounds, and Namon Wright added 10 points and five rebounds.
After shooting 1 for 3 in the first half, Puryear found a rhythm, shooting 5 for 7 in the second. He has reached double-digit scoring in six of his seven collegiate games.
NIU guard Marshawn Wilson led all scorers with 24 points, making all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Center Marin Maric finished with 14 points and a team-best seven rebounds.
After a quiet start, Travon Baker and Aaric Armstead combined for 16 points in the second half. Baker finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while Armstead had 10 points to go with five rebounds.