Missouri men’s basketball can admit it now.
That two-month losing streak was a soul-sapping stretch.
“Only we know what we’ve been going through these last couple months,” sophomore forward Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, said after ending a 13-game slide with a win Feb. 4 against Arkansas. “It’s been terrible honestly. I’m not even going to sugarcoat it.”
The 10 days since that breakthrough win have been considerably more enjoyable.
“They might be having a little more fun than they were,” third-year coach Kim Anderson said.
His squad followed a win against the Razorbacks in the Rally for Rhyan Game with a three-point loss at Texas A&M, the Tigers’ best road result since February 2014, and a second straight home win last Saturday.
Mizzou (7-17, 2-10 SEC) throttled Vanderbilt by 20 points and climbed from the Southeastern Conference cellar with the victory.
“There’s been a lot more positive energy in practice,” junior forward Jordan Barnett said.
While the Tigers’ sense of relief can be measured by shooting percentage, it’s also apparent in anecdotes from practice.
“Even Coach (Anderson) was singing Drake the other day,” sophomore point guard Terrence Phillips said. “I knew it was going to be a great weekend when he was quoting Drake lyrics. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It threw me off.”
Barnett picked up the story, “He was singing some Drake song; I think it was ‘Energy,’ and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’ve never heard him quote Drake before. I don’t know if I can say he’s a fan or not, but it was definitely interesting.”
Mizzou’s recent surge coincides with an uptick in output from Barnett, a St. Louis native who transferred from Texas at semester last season and became eligible Dec. 17.
During the Tigers’ best three-game stretch of the season, Barnett has averaged 21.0 points and 6.7 rebounds with a steal and a block per game.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Phillips said. “Obviously, with his athletic ability and the way he can shoot the ball and play defense, it was just time for that to come out. … He’s kind a coming along now and being an alpha dog we need.”
Barnett also is shooting 62.5 percent from the field — 20 of 32 overall, including 11 of 21 from three-point range — and has made 12 of 14 free throws.
He’s broken his career for three-pointers made in back-to-back games, hitting four at A&M and five against Vanderbilt while scoring a career-high 23 in both contests.
“It’s about time …,” Phillips joked. “I’ve always known he can really shoot the ball. I think he’s just shooting it with a little more confidence right now. He’s been locked in these past three games for us and has been outstanding.”
Anderson said Barnett’s potential is unlimited, but it may not be fully realized until next season as he continues to gain confidence in his ability and comfort with his teammates.
“Our guys know Jordan can do a lot of things for our team, so I think they’ve fed off of him a little bit …,” Anderson said. “I quit running plays for him. We bring him off the bench now. He just hoops. He’s just a hooper. He just goes out and plays.”
When Barnett initially became eligible, he felt the weight of immense expectations from his home-state fans and, being a unusually nice guy, didn’t want to ruffle any feathers as he took the floor midseason.
Now, all of that pretense has vanished.
“There was a time is early where I did feel pressured to score,” Barnett said. “Since coming off the bench, I guess that kind of a limited that. I just told myself to go out and play and be me … and these past couple games my shot been falling.”