Mizzou head coach Cuonzo Martin on the play of Torrence Watson and Kevin Puryear
In a happy Missouri locker room, there was some extra love for a couple of players:
For Torrence Watson, whose three-pointers on successive possessions provided the pivot point in the Tigers’ 78-63 victory over South Carolina.
And for Kevin Puryear who isn’t having the senior season he envisioned but came up big on Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“Both of them,” Tigers big man Jeremiah Tilmon said. “They were hoopin’ tonight.”
Watson, the freshman guard who has grown more confident and productive as the season has unfolded, finished with 20 points.
Puryear is a different story. The senior forward from Blue Springs expected bigger things in his final year. Instead, he entered Saturday averaging 6.9 points and 23.1 minutes per game. Both are career lows.
His 18 points on Saturday marked a season high and 26 matched a best in SEC play. With only a handful of games remaining in his college career, Puryear wants to make the most of them.
“I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well,” Puryear said. “I want to do so well. I love this school and I love my team. I really want to bring everything I can to the table.
“But I think it got to a point where I was just overthinking the game. I’ve been playing this game since I was 5 years old. I know how to play. Today, I just told myself, ‘Go for it.’ Leave all the thoughts, doubts, whatever was in my head, leave it in the locker room.”
Puryear got it done near the basket and at the free-throw line, where he went eight of nine. The highlight? Driving across the lane, the left-handed Puryear flipped in a right-handed scoop shot and completed a three-point play to make it 73-60 with 1:14 remaining.
“I ain’t never done that before,” Puryear said. “I didn’t know I had that in my bag.”
Watson was sure about his perimeter skills. Although he entered the game hitting 32.1 percent from beyond the arc, Watson didn’t hesitate after the Gamecocks had sliced a double-digit deficit to 58-54 with 5:51 remaining.
The first splash stopped the run. On Mizzou’s next possession, Watson missed from deep, but the Tigers hustled for the offensive rebound, worked it back around to Watson. And he didn’t let the miss from a moment earlier shake him. This three restored an eight-point lead.
“I was really feeling it tonight,” Watson said. “If my teammates kept getting me the ball in the right spots, I was going to knock it down for them.”
From there, Missouri closed it out, which had been an issue in conference play. It helped the home team that South Carolina was playing without second-leading scorer A.J. Lawson, the freshman guard who suffered a severe ankle sprain in the previous game. Also, primary weapon Chris Silva labored in foul trouble. The team’s top scorer and rebounder finished with 12 points and no boards.
Entering the game, South Carolina would have been the SEC Tournament’s fourth seed and Missouri the 12th. But with Saturday’s outcome, the Tigers improved to 13-15 overall while the Gamecocks dropped to 14-15.
In league play, Mizzou stands 4-12 and South Carolina 9-7.
“Don’t pay attention to (SEC) records,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “Us and them could have completely opposite records. That how close our games and their games have been.”
The difference is, South Carolina won the majority of theirs and the Tigers lost most of theirs. But on Saturday, behind the confident shooting spree of a freshman and senior who put his recent woes in the past, Mizzou delivered one of its most complete performances of the season.