Top 5 sports moments from the year at Mizzou

J’den Cox, women’s basketball and baseball’s winning streak headline the list.

Maneater File Photo

J’den Cox medals at Rio Olympics

The biggest individual moment of the 2016-17 school year for a Missouri athlete may have come two days before classes even began, when, on Aug. 20, senior wrestler J’den Cox earned a bronze medal in the 86-kg weight class at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Cox’s bronze-medal match was one of the most dramatic matches of the Olympic Games. Leading 1-0 on an escape in the final minute, Cox appeared close to pulling out a nail-biter before his opponent, Cuba's Reineris Salas Perez, earned a penalty point to knot up the score at 1.

Then, with just six seconds remaining in regular time, Cox thought he scored a takedown, but no call was made by the official. Cox’s coaches challenged for a takedown, and after a lengthy review, Cox was awarded the two points. Perez was so upset that he refused to continue the match, giving Cox the 3-1 victory via disqualification.

With his bronze-medal victory, Cox became just the seventh Missouri athlete to medal at an Olympic Games. He also became the first Tigers wrestler to ever take home an Olympic medal.

Cox supplemented his Olympic success with his third national title in the 197-pound weight class on March 18 in St. Louis, but his accomplishments in Rio proved that he is not only a great college wrestler, but one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Mizzou football tops Arkansas over Thanksgiving break

Most Missouri students missed the football team’s best showing of the 2016 season.

With many students gone for Thanksgiving break, Missouri put together its best performance of the season in a 28-24 comeback victory over Arkansas the Friday after Thanksgiving, to finish 4-8 in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach.

In the second half, after being down 24-7 at the half, Missouri’s defense found its bearings, and the offense found consistency. Junior Nate Strong rushed for two touchdowns. The defense picked off Razorbacks quarterback Austin Allen twice. The second interception, which came from senior Aarion Penton, sealed the victory for the Tigers.

The interception capped off the season for the Tigers and Penton’s college career.

“I had a big goal to getting at least one pick to go out on a good note,” Penton said.

The second half was the first time the Tigers had held an opponent to a scoreless half since October 2015.

Men’s basketball pulls off a first-round SEC tournament upset

People thought it would be Kim Anderson's last game. Missouri had already announced his tenure as men’s basketball coach would be over once the season was.

And it seemed inevitable that the Missouri men’s basketball’s loss-filled season would end with a loss to Auburn in the first round of the SEC tournament.

Even Terrence Phillips embraced his coach with a long, emotional hug when he exited the game the final time.

Phillips’ goodbye was premature, though.

Sophomore forward Kevin Puryear gave Anderson one more day as coach of the Tigers when he hit a 3-point shot as time expired in overtime in Nashville, Tennessee. Puryear’s shot gave Missouri an 86-83 victory after the team fought back to tie the game in regulation.

Smiles spread across Missouri players’ faces as they experienced a small sliver of March Madness, upsetting an Auburn team it failed to beat twice in the regular season.

The Tigers lost the next day, but the overtime victory over Auburn gave Anderson one last highlight before he left Missouri, his alma mater.

Women’s basketball upsets South Carolina on Cunningham’s game-winner

Missouri women’s basketball pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball this past season, taking down South Carolina 62-60 on Feb. 19. The win not only solidified Mizzou’s status as one of the SEC’s top teams, but made the Tigers the last team to beat the Gamecocks on South Carolina’s way to winning the national championship.

After the game, Tigers coach Robin Pingeton praised South Carolina.

“[It’s] an incredible program at South Carolina,” she said at the time. “They’re a team that can definitely compete in the national championships this season.”

South Carolina, at that time, was first in the SEC and ranked No. 6 nationally in the AP poll. And Pingeton’s prediction was correct: The Gamecocks would be crowned national champions in April.

But on that day, it was the Tigers who would prevail.

Mizzou kept the Gamecocks close in the first half, keeping them scoreless from beyond the arc in the first quarter. Things took a turn when Missouri, dealing with spacing issues, fell behind by double digits early on in the second half. It got worse when senior Lindsey Cunningham, boxed out roughly out of a rebound, had to exit the game.

But sophomore Sophie Cunningham made critical plays in the fourth quarter to claw back into the game. The final few minutes of the game were a back-and-forth affair, but with 0.6 seconds left, Sophie Cunningham hit the winning layup to propel the Tigers to a 62-60 victory.

The win stunned South Carolina and others in the Southeastern Conference, and it catapulted Mizzou into the national women’s basketball conversation. More importantly, it proved that the Tigers had the capability to hang with the country’s best.

Baseball goes on a 20-game winning streak

Twenty-game win streaks are rare in sports. They don’t come around often, but when they do, their magnitude draws attention from fans and competition alike.

Missouri baseball achieved that feat in the beginning of their 2017 season, storming through its out-of-conference schedule. The streak, which ran from late February to late March, established the Tigers as the most improved team in the Southeastern Conference.

The winning streak showed a lot of what this Missouri baseball team is about. The three walk-off wins and four come-from-behind victories were a testament to the Tigers’ resiliency. Those wins also showed the value of timely hitting in baseball, which has been a key strength for Missouri.

The streak also saw the emergence of new impact players on the Missouri roster, from rookies to veterans. Freshman Kameron Misner emerged as an offensive threat and a lethal weapon on the base paths. Sophomore Bryce Montes De Oca drew MLB attention with his starts during the streak. Junior Alex Samples provided rock-solid defense and timely hitting. And senior Kirby McGuire, after receiving sparse amounts of playing time last season, became a solid outfield piece for the Tigers.

After a 26-30 season in 2016, the winning streak also provided the assurance that the program was headed in the right direction. First-year head coach Steve Bieser has played a massive part in the turnaround. After being hired by Missouri from Southeastern Missouri State, he has implemented a hard-nosed brand of baseball that has been upheld by team success.

It’s safe to say that this spring’s 20-game winning streak will be what Tigers fans remember about the 2017 season.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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