The town of Montrose, Mo., is home to 384 residents. Montrose High School employs just eight teachers. So when Montrose native Morgan Eye set a Missouri record with eight 3-pointers Monday night, it wasn’t long before word got out.
“I just talked to my parents, and news travels fast in a small town,” Eye said. “My aunt had already been texting my mom, so I actually did know that (I broke the record).”
Eye, a sophomore guard, finished with 26 points and six assists in Missouri’s biggest win of the season: an 82-71 victory over Tennessee-Martin, a team with two straight NCAA tournament appearances.
The lead changed hands 17 times in the first 27 minutes. But with 12:27 left in the game, Eye fed freshman guard Lianna Doty a layup to give Missouri a 55-53 advantage, one the team would not relinquish until the final buzzer.
“I don’t think it’s a statement win, but I think it’s a great win for us,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “I think, when you look at the growth of our team from a month ago to now, you can see positives.”
Part of that growth has been Eye’s consistency from behind the line. In the Cancun Challenge during Thanksgiving weekend, Eye shot just 27 percent from long distance. Instead of limiting the struggling Eye, Pingeton let her shoot her way out of the slump.
“I’ve been working on trying to find it from the line,” Eye said. “Coach has talked to me about that, (so) I’m trying to get my shooting percentage up. I mean, I have all the confidence in myself whenever I have the green light to shoot it. When you’re in a rhythm, you don’t hesitate. You just lock on a target and hit it.”
Lost in Eye’s record-breaking performance was junior guard Bri Kulas’ double-double. Kulas went 6 for 14 from the field but shot just 1 for 7 from outside the arc. What Kulas lacked in range she made up for in grit — Kulas accounted for seven of the team’s eight free throws, giving her a total of 20 points and 14 rebounds on the night.
Though UT-Martin (3-6) came into the game with an unimpressive record, that mark had been skewed by losses to Baylor, Stanford and Louisville, all of whom are ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
“We just take the philosophy that you’re going to find out about your team when you play the best that you can find,” UT-Martin coach Kevin McMillian said.
Two undersized junior guards, 5-foot-6-inch Jasmine Newsome and 5-foot-5-inch Heather Butler, lead the Skyhawks. Both average more than 20 points per game, and no one else on the team averages more than six points per game.
“They’ve got a couple of really talented guards, no doubt about it,” Pingeton said.
For the first 25 minutes of the game, it appeared Missouri would only be able to stop half of UT-Martin’s attack. With 15:12 remaining in the second half, Newsome had 21 points. Fortunately for Missouri, the Tigers held Newsome to just three more points, and the Skyhawk offense screeched to a halt in the process.
Missouri plays twice more this week: Thursday against Missouri State and Saturday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Tigers then get a week off for final exams before taking on Southern Illinois on Dec. 16. at Mizzou Arena.