Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — It began in the ugliest of fashions.
Missouri and Auburn turned the ball over seven times on the game’s first 11 possessions. The seven-win clubs made just four field goals apiece in the first 10 minutes of play.
And then, in a 9:23 flurry, Saturday night’s game at Mizzou Arena morphed into a beautiful thing for the Missouri men’s basketball team.
The Missouri Tigers outscored the Auburn Tigers by 21 points in a late first-half stretch, sinking their teeth into a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for a 76-61 win. It was Missouri’s first win against a Power-5 opponent in more than 10 months and their biggest win against a Southeastern Conference opponent in 22.
Not that Missouri coach Kim Anderson needed to be told.
“I’ve heard so much about that,” he said. “… Probably, selfishly a little bit, I’m happy that that happened. I know that our guys wanted this win bad, so every game they’ve got to play like this.”
Kevin Puryear recorded his first career double-double — 14 points, 11 rebounds — as one of four Missouri players to score in double figures. Tramaine Isabell scored 12 points and K.J. Walton and Namon Wright each had 10.
Missouri attempted 56 free throws, a season high, sinking 22 of them. Auburn spent plenty of time at the line as well, though, and Missouri got in foul trouble early. Four Tigers recorded two fouls by the under-8 timeout.
That allowed D’Angelo Allen to see the floor, which provided a spark late for the Tigers. Allen scored five points on a putback and a 3-pointer in just eight minutes of first-half action. He also had three rebounds in a block in that time. The sophomore, who finished with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, has scored 17 combined points in his last four games after scoring just eight in Missouri’s first 11 games.
“We know when we put him in exactly what he’s going to bring,” Tramaine Isabell said of Allen. “He’s going to bring toughness, he’s going to rebound, he’s going to run the floor, he’s going to talk on defense. … That’s exactly what we needed. I felt like that’s what got our bench going. That’s what got all of us motivated to start playing a lot harder, and that’s how we went on that run.”
One of the 10 first-half fouls for Missouri was a technical on Wes Clark, who was hit with the T alongside Auburn’s Kareem Canty.
“I thought the beginning of the game created a really good atmosphere, with a little bit of stuff going on,” Anderson said.
Isabell acknowledged some “bad blood” between the teams because of their close contests last year.
“We said in the locker room that we just had to retain focus,” he said. “You know that probably some cheap shots or something’s going to happen. And when happened, I feel like just everyone locked in.”
The temper that flared most was that of Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, who was hit with a technical with 12:11 left in the first half. Less than three minutes later, Missouri’s big run began.
Missouri’s lead dipped to as little as 12 on a 13-6 Auburn run, but Missouri would push it to 26 on a 20-6 run of its own. Auburn went 7:12 without a field goal during the run.
Canty came in as Auburn’s leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game. Missouri held him to nine points on 2-of-9 shooting, helped in part by his four personal fouls.
Puryear, Missouri’s leading scorer, had four offensive rebounds among his career-high 14.
“It was actually motivated by my mother,” he said. “She called me on the phone yesterday. She said, ‘I don’t think you’re being intense enough.’ So I was like, ‘All right, mom. I’ll see what I can do on the intensity part.’”
Missouri’s most recent win against a Power-5 opponent also came against Auburn, on March 3, 2015. Missouri lost by five at Auburn in Anderson’s first meeting with Bruce Pearl.
Under Anderson, Missouri has played in eight SEC games in which they weren’t beat by at least seven. Three of those have come against Auburn. Saturday’s 15-point win was Missouri’s biggest against an SEC opponent since March 1, 2014, against Mississippi State, a 19-point win.
Missouri (8-7, 1-1 SEC) hosts Arkansas (8-7, 2-1) on Tuesday.
“Arkansas is a real talented team,” Anderson said. “They play a style that forces you to get up and down the floor.”
Notes: Jakeenan Gant hit his first 3-pointer of the season to put Missouri up 9-6. It was Gant’s first 3 since his first attempt at Missouri, that on Dec. 13, 2014, against Xavier. He had missed 21 consecutive since. … Missouri tied a season-low with eight turnovers. … Missouri’s bench outscored Auburn’s 40-5.