Walk-on Danny Feldmann had played a whopping 45 minutes in 21 games during two seasons since transferring to Missouri from Columbia University.
But he played a major role Tuesday in extending the Tigers’ season at least one more game with an 85-77 victory against Davidson at Mizzou Arena.
Of course, Missouri, 23-11, which dressed only eight scholarship players after freshman guards Wes Clark and Shane Rector were suspended before the game, had precious few options.
The Tigers already were without senior forward Tony Criswell, who hasn’t practiced in two weeks and didn’t travel to the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week. Sophomore walk-on guard Corey Haith also wasn’t available because of a season-ending knee injury.
That left Missouri with sophomore Ryan Rosburg, freshman Torren Jones and Feldmann, a junior who played more minutes against Davidson (22) than he had the rest of the season combined (19).
“I was expecting to play a little bit,” Feldmann said. “I wasn’t sure how much it would be. I just knew I was going to play as hard as I could for every second I was in there.”
And while Feldmann only scored four points with four rebounds in 22 minutes, his contribution was massive.
“Danny really stepped up,” said junior Jabari Brown, who led Missouri with 30 points and played the entire 40 minutes. “He’s real smart. He knows everywhere he’s supposed to be on the court, offense and defense. He’s not afraid to try to make plays and, when an opportunity presented itself, he did that.”
Feldmann’s dunk proved to be the exclamation point as the second-seeded Tigers, 23-11, erased a 13-point second-half deficit against the seventh-seeded Wildcats, 20-13, and advanced to the second round of the NIT for only the second time in eight tries to the delight of 2,403 in attendance.
“It’s tremendous, because you look across (the country) and there’s a lot of teams that don’t play,” coach Frank Haith said when asked about his team’s intensity two days after missing the NCAA Tournament. “I wanted our guys to really compete.”
Missouri did that, especially in the second half as its size and athleticism wore down Davidson, the Southern Conference regular-season champions.
“Those guards (Brown and junior Jordan Clarkson) are very quick and very athletic,” said Wildcats junior Tyler Kalinoski, an Olathe East graduate. “We scouted them well and knew what they were going to do, but their athleticism got them to the line and got them some easy points, which hurt us when they were making that run.”
The Tigers, who’ve struggled from the field in recent weeks, shot 58 percent, while the Wildcats shot 52 percent in the first half but only 32 percent in the second half.
Still, it didn’t look good early in the second half after Davidson, which led by four at the break, opened the second 20 minutes on a 13-4 run.
Kalinoski, who finished with 16 points and a game-high six assists in 40 minutes, drilled bookend three-pointers during that run, which ended with the Wildcats up 54-41.
Missouri didn’t wilt and instead adopted a resolute mind-set down the stretch “knowing that there’s no 13-point play and just trying to take each 4 minutes by a section, trying to win each 4 minutes,” said senior Earnest Ross, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds.
Rosburg’s jam off a slick feed from Brown pulled the Tigers within 65-61 before a three-pointer by Clarkson, who scored 15, made it a one-point game.
Davidson senior and Southern Conference player of the year De’Mon Brooks, who finished with 29 points and seven rebounds, extended the lead with two free throws, but Feldmann’s baseline take for a two-handed jam followed by freshman Johnathan Williams III’s three-point play completed Tigers’ comeback.
Brown then put the Tigers in front to stay with two free throws at the 5-minute mark.
Clark and Rector were arrested Saturday in Columbia along with two Tigers football players — sophomore cornerback Aarion Penton and redshirt sophomore Shaun Rupert — for misdemeanor possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana.
Haith wasn’t sure about their availability for the NIT second round on Sunday.
“I have to still gather more information,” Haith said. “We’re in that process of information gathering, and we will make a decision once we have a sit-down and have evaluated everything.”