Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri men’s basketball team gave the ball away plenty Saturday, turning it over 17 times. But the Tigers held the ball long enough to give it away when it really mattered.
Missouri freshman Terrence Phillips gifted the game ball — used to beat Tennessee and snap a nine-game losing streak — to 5-year-old Rhyan Loos after the 75-64 win. Loos, the daughter of assistant coach Brad Loos, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in October and was the inspiration for Tuesday’s #RallyForRhyan Game.
Appropriately enough, Ryan Rosburg led the charge for the Tigers with 21 points and seven rebounds. And surprisingly, no rally was necessary. The Tigers led for the game’s final 38:31.
“I think this is a meaningful day for a lot reasons,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said, choking up.
More than $50,000 was raised for pediatric cancer research through donations and T-shirt sales.
“You couldn’t have scripted this day any better than what it went today,” Loos said. “… I’m happy for the win. I’m absolutely thrilled with the amount of money we raised, and I’m really happy for our guys, because they’ve been working really hard and they deserve a win, and they needed this too.”
With a season-high crowd of 10,536 at their backs, the Tigers hit seven of their first 9 shots and jumped out to a 17-8 lead. It was a nice change of pace for 9-16 Missouri.
“It was different,” Rosburg said. “We’re usually fighting from behind.”
The 6-foot-10 senior continued his recent hot spell by shooting 8-of-9 from the floor and hitting 5-of-7 free throws. Rosburg has scored 17 or more points his last three games — a total he had never reached before then.
“I don’t even know what was going on with Ryan, but Ryan is balling right now,” Phillips said. “Ryan is playing great right now, and I would love to see him continue that these next six or seven games, however many we have left for his senior year.”
The end is in sight for Rosburg, the team’s lone senior, because of the Tigers’ self-imposed postseason ban this year.
I’m “playing like I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “My days are numbered, I know that, and I don’t want to leave anything. I don’t want to have any regrets looking back.”
Rosburg scored eight of his points in the game’s first seven minutes and the Tigers pushed their lead to 12 at 11:04 on a deep Cullen VanLeer jumper. But the next 5:38 went about as poorly as possible for Missouri. Perplexed by Tennessee’s zone defense, the Tigers turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and actually lost a point, as VanLeer’s 3 was changed to a 2.
But the Volunteers hit just two field goals in that time and Missouri’s lead remained four when Kevin Puryear went to the line at 5:25. The freshman sunk both free throws, and though the field-goal drought would last 8:13 in total, Missouri used 13 first-half free throws to get the lead to 14 shortly before half.
The Tigers racked up five fouls in the first 3:23 of the second half, much to the gold-clad crowd’s dismay. The Vols were in the bonus less than three minutes later.
Still, the Tigers remained afloat, thanks in part to Tennessee’s 8-of-27 performance behind the arc. Missouri lifted the margin from six points back to 11 on a one-handed Namon Wright breakaway dunk that got Mizzou Arena louder than it’s been all season.
Tennessee made one last surge, led by 13 Devon Baulkman points in the span of just over seven minutes. But the Tigers hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to close out their first win in more than a month.
“When it gets close to the end of games like that, I would say composure is probably the most important factor,” said Puryear, who finished with 17 points. “You see sometimes where teams, when that happens, they get rattled, and I think we did a really good job of staying together.”
More so than big shots — a freebie dunk by Rosburg to end the game was the first Tiger field goal in 2:32 — Missouri got the big rebounds to secure the win. None were bigger than Phillips’ offensive rebound of his own miss with 59 seconds to go. With a renewed shot clock, Phillips dished to Namon Wright, who hit two free throws after being immediately fouled.
“That was an unbelievable rebound,” Anderson said of Phillips’ board, which came when Missouri’s lead was down to four. “And then (he) had the wherewithal to bring it out and not try to put it back up against bigger guys.”
Wright finished with 13 points, including two 3s in the first three minutes of the game. Kevin Punter, formerly of State Fair Community College in Sedalia, scored a team-high 21 for Tennessee.
Missouri’s win is its second of the Southeastern Conference schedule. The Tigers defeated Auburn on Jan. 9 before the losing streak began.
“The drought was definitely tough,” Puryear said. “Especially because there were a few close games in there that I feel like we could’ve won.”
The Tigers avoided matching last year’s losing streak of 13, the longest in program history.
“I think they were tired of losing,” Anderson said. “I’ve talked to them about that in practice several times. When I get mad, I say, ‘Aren’t you tired of losing?’ and ‘Here’s what we have to do.’ Today they executed.”
Missouri (2-10 SEC) hosts South Carolina (21-4, 8-4) on Tuesday.