Major conference teams are rarely excited to play in the National Invitation Tournament. Most have seen their dreams of playing on a national stage in the NCAA tournament morph into playing in empty arenas.
So when Davidson took a 13-point second-half lead against a short-handed Missouri team in the first round of the NIT, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Tigers fold and accept an early vacation. But Missouri fought back, playing one of its grittier games of the season to earn an 85-77 win Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri coach Frank Haith conditioned his players to take the NIT seriously, telling them about other programs who used the tournament to launch future success in the big dance.
“I thought our guys competed their butts off,” he said. “I thought from start to finish, even when we got down 13, we were playing hard.”
When the Tigers were down big in the second half, Haith preached patience, telling his players to break the game into four-minute periods.
Freshman guards Shane Rector and Wes Clark missed the game due to suspension following their arrests on suspicion of marijuana possession Saturday. This, along with the absence of senior forward Tony Criswell and other players due to injury, left the Tigers with just seven scholarship players.
Junior forward Danny Feldmann is not one of those scholarship players. Feldmann walked on at MU after transferring from Columbia University a year ago.
He had played 19 total minutes on the season entering the game, and had not scored a single point. Feldmann played 22 minutes Tuesday, and he scored four points. His third and fourth points of the season came on a powerful dunk in the second half.
“Danny really stepped up,” junior guard Jabari Brown said. “He’s really smart, he knows everywhere he’s supposed to be out on the court, offense and defense. He’s not afraid to try and make plays and when the opportunity presented itself.”
Haith told Feldmann it could be an opportunity for him to improve.
“I was expecting to play a little bit, I wasn’t sure how much it would be,” Feldmann said. “I just knew I was going to play as hard as I could for every second I was in there.”
But the walk-on wasn’t the only one called to do more. Junior guard Jordan Clarkson played all 40 minutes, and Brown scored 30 points, his second-highest output of the season.
Haith said he wasn’t sure if Clark and Rector would play in Missouri’s second round game. The Tigers will host the winner of Wednesday’s game between Southern Mississippi and Toledo. The team announced the game will be Sunday in Columbia, but the time has not been determined yet.