COLUMBIA, Mo. – Entering Saturday’s game, Kevin Puryear had missed his last 11 3-point attempts. He missed his first 3-pointer of Saturday’s game, as well.
What Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t want was for Puryear to become hesitant. Puryear, a 6-foot-7 forward from Blue Springs South High School, has the ability to score inside and out. That stretches defenses, which is crucial to Missouri’s offense.
So when Kassius Robertson drove left with less than 20 seconds left in overtime and found Puryear in the corner, Martin just wanted him to shoot it.
“I thought he has passed up 3-point shots. Even the one he shot before that, he was hesitant and then he shot it. That wasn’t a good shot because it wasn’t in rhythm,” Martin said. “I said, ‘You are passing up too many shots. We need those shots to go.’ He stepped up and shot that one.”
Puryear knew right away that he was going to let the shot fly.
Puryear, who made both of Missouri’s overtime field goals, hoisted the 3-pointer from the left corner, and it dropped. That gave Missouri a two-point lead with 10 seconds left and helped propel the Tigers to an 89-85 win over Mississippi State at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri’s winning streak is up to four games and is the longest conference winning streak since the Tigers won five straight in the Big 12 in the 2011-12 season.
The icing on the cake for Puryear: It was Rally for Rhyan day.
“This is an emotional game for the returning guys and an emotional game in general. It’s for a good cause and raises a lot of money and was a great showing today,” Puryear said.
The third-annual Rally for Rhyan game raised more than $60,000 for pediatric cancer research. The win added to the occasion.
And it wouldn’t have happened, Puryear said, if it wasn’t for the unselfish play of Robertson, Missouri's leading scorer.
The shot came after Missouri had struggled to get any movement offensively. Puryear passed the ball to Robertson, who drove left, drew a double team and found Puryear in the corner.
“(Kassius) being one of our better scorers, or the scorer, we want the ball in his hands to make a play. Very unselfish of him to kick it to me in the corner,” Puryear said.
Martin said that pitch is something Missouri has been working on.
“He carried up the assignment. Here is a guy who is your leading scorer, he could’ve easily tried to make a shot,” Martin said. “He made the right play.”
On the ensuing possession, Jordan Geist drew a charge on Lamar Peters. Peters appeared to nudge Geist, who might have exaggerated the contact.
“Oh, I didn’t sell it at all. He pushed off,” Geist said with a large smile.
Robertson, who led Missouri (17-8, 7-5) with 22 points, hit two free throws to seal the win. Robertson was one of five Missouri players to score in double figures.
Geist finished with 17 points, Jordan Barnett had 15, Puryear picked up 13 and Jontay Porter added 10 points.
With 1:27 left in regulation, it looked like Missouri wouldn’t need overtime to win its fourth straight game.
Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6) went with a full-court press, which flustered Missouri.
“That was just a fly-by deal, and we did a really good job and it really got them on their heels,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said.
Missouri, which turned the ball over 12 times in the game, turned the ball three times in the final 1:27 of regulation, allowing the Bulldogs to go on a 12-0 run to end the half.
“That’s a big part of what we’re trying to work on is to not turn the ball over so much,” Geist, who had two assists and two turnovers. “We’ve been throwing it away, and in critical times, it can hurt you.”
After a Robertson turnover, Peters pulled up on the right wing and nailed a 3-pointer that tied the game at 79 with 16 seconds left. Missouri had one final possession.
Robertson went up behind the arc, but in mid-air he passed the ball to Geist. Geist hoisted a contested 3-pointer that didn’t go home.
Missouri’s offensive ball movement, which helped it hold control of the game for most of the second half, all but disappeared late.
In the first half, Missouri put together one of its best offensive performances of the season. The Tigers shot 60 percent from the field and 58 percent from deep. It averaged 1.5 points per possession.
Mississippi State, which entered the game as the 347th best 3-point shooting team in the country, out of 351, caught fire from deep early. Despite its 28.9 percent average, Mississippi State’s first three baskets were 3-pointers and helped it open a 9-3 lead. The Bulldogs shot 35 percent from deep in the game.
Trailing 9-3, Missouri got going offensively. Missouri opened an 8-0 run, where Puryear and Barnett split the points evenly.
Mississippi State answered with a 7-0 lead of its own to take a 16-11 lead. Then the teams traded the lead back and forth.
A 7-0 run by the Tigers, capped by a Robertson 3-pointer, allowed Missouri to expand its lead and take control of the game.
Missouri took a 32-24 lead with 5:46 remaining in the half. Its lead reached double digits for the first time on a Geist 3-pointer with 21 seconds left. Quinndary Weatherspoon answered with a 3-pointer on the next possession and cut Missouri’s lead to 42-33 just as the halftime buzzer sounded.
The Tigers held control of the second half, until the final 1:27. Since it began its winning streak, with a win at Alabama, the Tigers have shown the ability to close games.
It didn’t do that on Saturday, but in an emotion-filled Mizzou Arena, the Tigers had just enough to leave with a win.
And Puryear picked the perfect time to make his first 3-pointer in eight games.
“I had a wide-open 3 in the corner. It was up to me to let it go,” Puryear said.