Missouri couldn’t seem to shake previously unbeaten Northern Illinois on Friday at Mizzou Arena.
The Tigers started the game in dominant fashion, building a 12-point lead in the opening minutes, but wound up in a dogfight again by halftime.
It looked like the Huskies were intent on staying within a possession the rest of the way.
Sophomore Jakeenan Gant’s revival, some clutch plays from freshman Cullen VanLeer and freshman Terrence Phillips’ hot hand turned the tide in a 78-71 Missouri victory.
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Coach Kim Anderson stressed patience on offense at halftime, ball-reversals and working possessions, and that paid off as Missouri, 4-3, shot 64.3 percent from the field in the second half fueled by a frontcourt that produced 41 points.
“What that did, it opened up the inside,” Anderson said. “We were able to get the ball inside to” forwards Gant, Kevin Puryear, Russell Woods and Ryan Rosburg and “to get 41 points out of those guys is pretty good.”
Northern Illinois, 7-1, only trailed 47-46 after a three-point play by sophomore center Marin Maric with 9:40 remaining.
Two offensive rebounds by senior Ryan Rosburg started the decisive sequence for the Tigers.
That possession ended with a three-pointer by sophomore Tramaine Isabell, which kicked off a 13-4 scoring run.
VanLeer, who provided the assist, came up with a steal in the lane on the Huskies’ next possession, which led to a fastbreak bucket by Phillips.
Gant, who finished with season highs of 11 points and six rebounds, added a steal and old-fashioned three-point play that ignited the crowd of 6,214.
Phillips, who helped power the Tigers with 13 points and a game-high six assists, splashed in an 18-footer before a Gant defensive board led to Isabell’s drive-and-kick for a wide-open three from VanLeer.
“The refreshing thing, to be honest with you, is to see when a guy’s open like Cullen VanLeer and the whole team is like, ‘Hey, throw him the ball,’” Anderson said. “I can’t really say I have had that experience since I took this job here.”
Missouri’s lead never again dipped below five points as Anderson’s club surged above .500.
“The change of culture and the change in dynamic of this team is a great thing to experience,” Puryear said.
Sophomore Namon Wright and Puryear also heated up in the closing minutes to help close out a second consecutive win.
Puryear, who scored seven of his team-high 17 in the final 2:30, punctuated the win when he drop-stepped into the lane with a bounce, drew contact and still got a left-handed finish off the glass.
His ensuing free throw made it 75-67 with 59.2 seconds remaining.
“Our guys executed well down the stretch, and that’s really encouraging for a young team,” Anderson said.
Wright finished with 10 points, giving Missouri four players in double figures, and added five boards.
Rosburg and junior Wes Clark grabbed a game-high seven boards apiece. Rosburg also had two blocks.
Woods chipped in nine points, including seven in a 90-second stretch, with four rebounds.
Missouri — which shot 53.8 percent from the field, the best since shooting 56.0 percent against Wofford in the season opener — got off to another scintillating start at both ends of the floor, much like Tuesday’s win against Arkansas State.
The Huskies, who toted an undefeated record to Columbia, bricked 10 straight shots to open the contest as the Tigers built a 12-0 lead.
Phillips and Clark, who had four assists, opened the scoring with three-pointers.
Maric eventually ended a 5-minute drought to open the game by coaxing a baby hook over the front rim.
The Huskies slowly crept back in the game from there, much like Tuesday against the Red Wolves. The Tigers’ 11 first-half turnovers played a big role.
“Our start was maybe a little too easy,” Anderson said. “They missed some shots. I don’t know whether it was our defense or their offense, but we got kind of stagnant.”
Gant’s a follow-up slam in transition in the final minute before halftime allowed Missouri to take a 27-26 lead into the break.