The Maneater

Cunningham and Smith help Missouri beat Billikens, 74-62

Missouri beat its second in-state rival this season aided by the usual suspects, good bench play, and a slew of traveling Tiger fans.

Missouri forward Sophie Cunningham hones in on the hoop before a free throw attempt during Missouri's 70-48 exhibition win over Missouri Western, Monday, Oct. 30, 2018. Cunningham, who committed MU in eighth grade and is entering her senior season, used to shoot hoops at a brick instead of a basket.

ST. LOUIS – In their second consecutive in-state game, the No. 23 Missouri Tigers (8-2, 0-0) beat the St Louis Billikens (4-6, 0-0) by the final score of 74-62. With the game at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, there were still many fans in attendance dressed in black and gold and on hand to witness a Tigers 12-point win.

Missouri used the energy from its traveling fans to burst out to a 25-10 lead after the first quarter. Senior Sophie Cunningham and junior Amber Smith provided 15 total points between the two of them by halftime. They picked up right from where they left off after their performances on Thursday.

“We always appreciate our fans,” coach Robin Pingeton said. “The energy they gave us really made a huge impact for us.”

The Tigers let a 17-point lead dwindle to 12 as halftime hit and Cunningham and Smith were both held scoreless in the the second quarter. Missouri was outscored 18-15.

For the second game in a row, Cunningham hobbled off the court due to injury. At the 2:03 mark in the second quarter, she came down awkwardly and had to take a seat. While she didn’t play the rest of the half, she returned after halftime, with a bandage on her right thigh. Cunningham didn’t provide any specifics on the injury, but insisted it wasn’t much to worry about.

“I’m totally fine,” Cunningham said. “It was just a knee and a dead leg.”

Cunningham recorded her second double digit scoring performance in as many games, totaling 18 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. The performance saw a season high on assists for the forward.

“My mindset was to try to get my teammates open,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham took sole possession of 10th place all time in field goals made in program history with her first field goal of the night.

Along with Cunningham, Smith had a productive night collecting third second double-double in a row. It put her double-double total on the season at six. Smith totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds. In one possession, she grabbed three rebounds in a row. Missouri as a whole was on the attack on the boards, as it won the rebounding battle 34-29.

“Amber is such a great rebounder for us,” Pingeton said. “We show spurts of being able to out rebound teams, now we have to to that consistently.

The Billikens tied the game just once – 44-44 at the 2:41 mark in the third – but never took the lead. The Billikens opened the half on an 11-1 run. Before SLU could take over the game, Missouri went on a 5-0 run to close out the quarter.

“That’s a gritty team over there,” Pingeton said of SLU. “None of us were surprised when they made that run after halftime. I’m just proud of our girls for having great poise and answering ourselves.”

Missouri’s bench was a large part of what helped stop the SLU run, as it contributed 28 points in the contest. Two Tigers came off the bench and found themselves in double figures – sophomore Emmanuelle Tahane with 13 points and freshman Akira Levy with 11 points.

“On any given night, we are going to need different kids to step up,” Pingeton said. “Both of them (Tahane and Levy) seized the moment tonight.”

Missouri returns home for its next contest in a game against South Dakota. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. CST on Saturday, Dec 15 at Mizzou Arena.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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