Missouri (13-15, 4-12 in SEC play) jumped out to an early lead, taking control of the game from the start, in front of a small but lively crowd at the arena. South Carolina (14-15, 9-7 in SEC) has had a good season in conference play, but the Tigers kept them at bay, fending off the Gamecocks’ rally attempts throughout the second half.
Missouri had plenty of key contributors for this one. Freshman Torrence Watson scored 20 to lead the Tigers, giving another hint that next season could be better. Senior Kevin Puryear scored 18 points, making 5 of 6 field goals and 8 of 9 free throws. Senior Jordan Geist scored 15, playing 39 of the game’s 40 minutes.
But perhaps nothing got the crowd going like big Reed Nikko, a lumbering junior from Minnesota, who is known mostly for his screen setting and boxing out for rebounds, but still put on a show Saturday. Nikko scored 8 points, making all four of his shots, including two powerful dunks that brought got the crowd fired up.
Senior walk-on Adam Wolf also got into the game late after the student section chanted for him, and coach Cuonzo Martin obliged. Wolf narrowly missed a three, but he did take a charge get a stop for the Tigers.
It was a feel-good game toward the end of a tough, rebuilding season, a win over a team tied for fourth in the SEC. The game also featured a halftime honoring of several form Mizzou basketball players, and a special recognition of the 1993-94 Tigers team that went 14-0 in the Big Eight Conference 25 years ago, still Missouri’s most recent basketball regular season conference title.
It also set Missouri up for a nice finish to the season with two winnable games left ahead of the SEC Tournament next week in Nashville.
The Tigers’ final week of the regular season includes a Wednesday trip to Georgia (5:30 p.m. on SEC Network) and then the Senior Day home game against Ole Miss to wrap up the season (2:30 p.m. on SEC Network).
Ole Miss (19-10, 9-7 in SEC) lost two games last week, including a tough 74-73 loss at Arkansas on Saturday. Coach Kermit Davis is in his first year in Oxford, after a long and successful run at Middle Tennessee, and he has the Rebels on the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth. But Ole Miss really could use a win Saturday in Columbia to make that happen. Junior guard Breein Tyree leads the way for the Rebels.
This should be a pretty good one. Ole Miss has NCAA Tournament motivation, and the Tigers have home-court advantage and seniors playing their final game at Mizzou Arena. It should be a fairly entertaining way to cap an up-and-down season, and hopefully give the Tigers a boost heading into the conference tournament.