Missouri freshman Namon Wright delivered a jaw-dropping performance Tuesday against Florida at Mizzou Arena.
More importantly, Wright’s career-high 28 points — the most by a Tigers freshman since Kareem Rush dropped 31 on Texas Tech more than 15 years ago — helped snap a 13-game losing skid.
“He carried us,” MU coach Kim Anderson said. “We haven’t had that type of performance. I think (sophomore Johnathan Williams III) had a night when he scored 27, but we haven’t had that type of performance often, and in order to win in this league, you’ve got to have that every once in a while.”
Missouri, 8-20 overall and 2-13 in the Southeastern Conference, won for the first time since Jan. 8 with a 64-52 victory that ended the longest losing skid in program history.
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“I hope it gives us some confidence,” Anderson said. “This has been miserable. This has been hard. It’s been hard for me; it’s been hard for them.”
Gators coach Billy Donovan credited Anderson for being able to keep the team together despite the last seven weeks of struggles.
“I give Kim a lot of credit, and I’m happy for him,” Donovan said. “If there’s a team in our league that could maybe fall apart, it would be these guys with their record. But I don’t think their record is indicative of the job Kim has done with a lot of young guys.”
Missouri certainly didn’t look like a team that had packed it in for the season.
“I think that’s a compliment really, because we didn’t give up,” said freshman Montaque Gill-Caesar, who had nine points with three rebounds and three assists. “Today was a perfect example of us not giving up. … We just grew up today. That’s it.”
The Tigers once again endured a lengthy first-half scoring drought — four points in nearly 10 minutes — only to have the Gators, 13-15 and 6-9, repay the favor in the second half.
After taking a six-point lead on a free throw by senior Jacob Kurtz with 11:41 remaining, Florida went one of its next 11 from the field as Missouri surged in front with an 18-2 spurt.
“We changed some things up with about 8 to 10 minutes to go,” Anderson said. “We kind of played a small lineup and were able to switch a lot of stuff.”
The Tigers’ comeback started at the 10:06 mark, when a Wright three-pointer halved the Gators’ lead.
Gill-Caesar then scored four straight points before the crowd of 7,631 went berserk at the 6:48 mark when freshman Jakeenan Gant caught a lob from senior Keith Shamburger for an emphatic transition dunk and a three-point lead.
Florida — which played without its two leading scorers, Michael Frazier II (ankle) and Dorian Finney-Smith (suspension) — was a wretched nine of 23 from the free-throw line, which helped Missouri extend its lead.
Another three-pointer by Wright, who was six of eight from long range and 10 of 13 overall from the field, boosted the Tigers’ lead to 53-47 approaching the 4-minute mark.
“I really didn’t know if it was going to be my night or not,” Wright said. I just felt confident today, and we were having fun out there.”
Sophomore Kasey Hill, who was one of eight from the free-throw line, missed two more free throws and then drew a technical after a Gators turnover that led to a pair of Shamburger free throws.
Shamburger was seven of nine down the stretch at the line, and sophomore Johnathan Williams III, who scored nine points with seven boards, was four of four in the final 1:07 as Missouri closed out the win.
“It was a team win, and I hope we can build on it,” Anderson said. “We had some guys have some good individual performances, but I thought we played pretty well as a team.”
Led by Wright, who had 12 points on five-of-seven shooting in the first half, the Tigers built a six-point lead in the opening 6:25.
“I was actually questioning whether he was going to miss tonight or not,” Gill-Caesar said, “so we just gave him the ball anytime he was open.”
Missouri’s lead stood at 21-16 after a Gant dunk with 10:05 remaining, but the Tigers went ice cold from there.
Missouri was scoreless during the next 5:11 and managed only four points during a 9:51 stretch before Wright’s two-handed jam with 14 seconds left cut Florida’s halftime lead to 31-27.