Missouri freshman forward Jakeenan Gant made his long-awaited debut Saturday against Xavier after being cleared for competition.
He stepped onto Norm Stewart Court inside Mizzou Arena for the first time in a regular-season game to thunderous applause with 8 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the first half of a 74-58 loss.
Gant, a four-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 52 prospect in the class of 2014 by Rivals, had been withheld from competition as his eligibility was reviewed based on an impermissible receipt of benefits, according to a statement Saturday from MU athletics that announced his reinstatement.
“We’re certainly thrilled to have him back on our basketball team,” first-year coach Kim Anderson said after the game. “He played extremely well today.”
Gant received a rousing ovation when he checked in and, barely a minute later, swished a 15-foot jumper from the left side on his first offensive touch.
The crowd of 7,854, the largest of the season at Mizzou Arena, roared its approval again.
“He gave us a big spark and we’re happy to have him back,” senior point guard Keith Shamburger said. “He’s a big part of our team. We’re going to need him in these games coming up.”
Gant, who was not made available for interviews after the game, finished with 13 points, two blocks, a rebound, a steal and a turnover in 15 minutes.
“He’s been practicing, but he’s been on the scout team a lot,” Anderson said. “I was really pleased with how much he knew and how he played and some of the things that he did. It’s great to have him back.”
When asked if he’d known for quite a while Gant would return for the Xavier game, Anderson said, “No.”
He also doesn’t expect adding Gant into the mix will be a panacea for the Tigers’ early-season struggles.
“I certainly think it’s a boost for us, but I don’t want to put the pressure on him that he’s going to come in here and all of the sudden we’re going to win 15 games in a row,” Anderson said. “I don’t think that.”
Gant’s suspension was announced in the hours before the season opener Nov. 13 against UMKC. He is the reigning Mr. Georgia Basketball, though he transferred after his senior season ended and finished high school at School of the Osage in Lake Ozark, Mo.
Gant, a 6-foot-8 native of Springfield, Ga., originally committed to the Tigers under Frank Haith, who left MU for Tulsa in April but decided to honor his pledge after meeting with Anderson.
Before the season, Gant was arrested along with fellow freshman forward D’Angelo Allen and another man Sept. 14 on suspicion of assault.
Gant, who left his wallet at the scene, and Allen were later charged with a peace disturbance, a Class B misdemeanor.
Both players were briefly suspended, but returned before the Black and Gold Scrimmage.
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