During Missouri’s last road game on Feb. 25 at Mississippi, sophomore forward Kevin Puryear marveled as he gazed across from the visiting team bench.
There sat Morgan Freeman — yes, the Academy Award-winning actor and stars of countless classic movies, including “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Dark Knight” trilogy.
“I wasn’t nervous, but I did think it was slightly weird,” Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, said before revealing himself as a young pup. “I’m like, ‘I’ve seen you on ‘Bruce Almighty’ and now I’m playing a game in front you. That’s kind of crazy.’ He’s a legend, so I thought it was kind of cool.”
Puryear hopes something even cooler will happen Saturday in the regular-season finale at Auburn, a game that tips off at 2:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
He hopes the Tigers win the program’s first road game during his career.
In fact, Mizzou hasn’t won a road since beating Arkansas on Jan. 28, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena and lugs a 34-game road skid overall and a 31-game road losing streak in conference to Auburn Arena.
The Tigers (7-22, 2-15 SEC) came close against the Rebels, grabbing a lead in the closing minutes only to wind up on the wrong end of an 80-77 final score.
The three-point loss matches the closest Mizzou has come to ending its road curse during the last 1,131 days.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys fight,” third-year coach Kim Anderson said. “I know they’re disappointed we couldn’t pull it out.”
The game at Auburn is the last chance to end the lengthy road slide this season and perhaps in Anderson’s tenure, if he doesn’t survive a third straight 20-loss season.
“Everybody sees the effort that this team has and that we haven’t quit,” Puryear said. “We have one more opportunity to chase a road game and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go there and play hard and see if we can get a win out of the deal.”
Coupled with a three-point loss last month at Texas A&M, there have been some undeniably encouraging results lately, even if victory remains elusive.
“We’re just playing better, honestly,” Puryear said. “Knowing what it takes to win road games, it takes a little more effort to win road games than it does to win home games. I think we’ve finally grasped onto that and that’s why we’re starting to perform better on the road.”
To its credit, Missouri, which only had two 20-loss seasons in program history before the recent struggles, hasn’t packed it in this season.
There were some low moments, a 39-point loss at Florida and 20-point loss at Tennessee, but the Tigers have been competitive for the most part.
“It says a lot about our resilience and our mindset,” Puryear said. “We’re going to continue to put our best foot forward and continue to give the effort. It just comes down to making the right plays at the right time, which I don’t think we have done a great job of down the stretch. We just have to be intelligent, show some grit and make the right plays.”