Experienced Puryear is Martin’s fallback when Missouri gets in a hole

The senior rebounded in the second half after being limited in the first by two personal fouls called early in the game.
Kevin Puryear drives the lane in Missouri's 76-59 defeat to Iowa St. on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 in Ames, Iowa.

AMES, Iowa – Benched after 11 minutes with two personal fouls, Kevin Puryear scored 0 points for Missouri while the Tigers unraveled in the first half against Iowa State Friday night.

When things got worse at the beginning of the second, coach Cuonzo Martin turned back to Puryear. He scored 9 within the first eight minutes.

The Tigers were still swept away by the Cyclones in what ended up amounting to a 76-59 loss, but a small stretch early in the second frame dominated by the 6-foot-7 senior paved the way for a short-lived glimmer of hope. It also demonstrated that Missouri is quick to compensate for youthful mistakes by putting the ball in the hands of a seasoned leader.

“I think in the first half, the fouls definitely held me back,” Puryear said. “I wasn’t able to get into a flow of the game, but I was more assertive in the second half. Shots started falling in.”

He finished the game with 10 points and 5 rebounds, sinking just one 3-pointer and going 3-for-5 on field goals in the second half. Sophomore transfer Mark Smith was Missouri’s leading scorer again, tallying 15 points, and Jeremiah Tilmon posted 7 rebounds, but nothing seemed quite as substantial as Puryear’s second half burst. Iowa State’s lead narrowed, if briefly, from 17 points to 10.

“We were late to the fires a couple of times with [Puryear],” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm.

Martin said it was “definitely” important to get Puryear more involved during the second half.

“I thought early in the game he had opportunities to post up and we didn’t get the ball to him,” Martin said.

Puryear, Missouri’s most veteran player, had a minimal presence in the Nov. 6 season-opening win against Central-Arkansas. Although he recorded 10 rebounds, he only tallied a single basket.

In his career to date, the forward has averaged 10.5 points per game as well as 5 rebounds. He’s also been the victim of 1.6 turnovers per game across that career. All 3 of this season’s came against Iowa State on Friday.

“At one point it seemed like it was just one [turnover] after another,” Puryear said. “I think we need more focus.”

As a whole, the Tigers finished the game with 25 turnovers after losing the ball on their first possession to Iowa freshman Tyrese Haliburton. The Cyclones recorded 12 points on the 15 giveaways from Missouri in the first half, and another 13 off of Missouri’s 10 in the second. The leader Puryear was a fitting spokesman after the game.

“Definitely this is a lesson for us,” he said. “There’s a lot of basketball to be played. We gotta put our hard hats on and practice.”

Martin agrees.

“Just consistent things we do in practice,” he said of fixing the team’s mistakes. “Taking care of the ball, dealing with pressure in practice, running space and being under control, playing with confidence. All of those things.”

Puryear will be at the forefront when Missouri travels to the U.S. Virgin Islands later this week for the Paradise Jam, which lasts from Nov. 16-19. Its first opponent will be Kennesaw State and its last could potentially be top-15 Kansas State, another imposing Big 12 opponent.

If things go wrong as they did against Iowa State Friday night, Martin’s hand may be shown.

When in doubt, turn to Puryear.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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