The Maneater

Column: Rally for Rhyan game shows just how much Missouri basketball has grown

The Tigers’ win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs exposed their greatest flaw and brought out their strongest attributes.

Jontay Porter moves around a Mississippi State defender towards the basket on Feb. 10, 2018.

Leading by 12 with 1:37 left in regulation against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon, it appeared as if the Missouri Tigers were in prime position to pick up their fourth straight conference win and third consecutive win in the team’s annual Rally for Rhyan game.

But in a fashion that’s become far too familiar for Missouri fans this season, the Tigers watched their seemingly insurmountable lead slip away.

First, freshman Jontay Porter turned the ball over on the offensive end after a Bulldogs layup, and Mississippi State took advantage with a layup to reduce the Tigers’ lead to eight. Then, Porter turned it over again, this time on the inbound, sending his pass to the right side of the court, where it was intercepted by Bulldogs sophomore Lamar Peters. Peters took advantage, scoring a layup to make the game even closer. Finally, after another basket from the Bulldogs and another Tigers turnover from graduate transfer Kassius Robertson, Peters ran down the floor and drained a 3-pointer.

With 25 seconds left in regulation, the game was tied at 79. Mizzou Arena was stunned.

The Bulldogs had exposed Missouri’s worst attribute — its inability to handle pressure on inbounds plays — and exploited it in expert fashion, putting the “rally” in Rally for Rhyan. Missouri junior guard Jordan Geist got another shot off before regulation ended, but it fell short. Overtime had arrived.

That should’ve been it for the Tigers. But it wasn’t.

Just like Rhyan Loos, the 7-year old girl for whom “Rally for Rhyan” gets its name and daughter of former Tigers assistant Brad Loos, the Tigers refused to quit. Unable to make a field goal, they turned to what they know best: tenacious defense, strong rebounding and poised free-throw shooting. Missouri’s “never quit” attitude turned into two free throws from Barnett and, finally, a tip-in from junior Kevin Puryear to tie the game at 84. Then the team got an assist from the crowd, when Mississippi State’s Abdul Ado hit one of his two free-throw attempts to give the Bulldogs a 1-point lead with 39 seconds remaining.

The stage was set. It was time for one of Missouri’s leaders to deliver. And deliver he did.

As the shot clock winded down and Missouri fans held their breath, Robertson, Missouri’s leading scorer, chose to drive to the basket, bringing defenders toward him and opening up Puryear in the left corner. Instead of taking a shot, Robertson passed to Puryear, embodying his team’s greatest asset in the process: selflessness.

On the same day he wore a warm-up shirt with Rhyan Loos’ name on it, Puryear drilled his 3-point shot, and Mizzou Arena went nuts. Then, on the other end, Geist drew an offensive foul, and just like that, Missouri pulled out the victory.

Missouri had needed a miracle, and they’d gotten it. Head coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game that it’s all part of a journey for his team.

“We made it a lot tougher down the stretch than I would’ve liked, but it’s a part of growth,” Martin said.

That growth has never been more evident than it was Saturday afternoon.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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