The Maneater

Missouri grabs signature win on the road at No. 10 Tennessee

Sunday’s win was Missouri’s first win at an AP top 10 team since beating Georgia in 2001.

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.

Robin Pingeton rose up on the shoulders of her players in the visiting team locker room, her fist pumping rapidly in the air.

In her ninth season as head coach at Missouri, and the team’s seventh in the SEC, the Tigers had at last secured a victory in the home of one of women’s college basketball’s most storied programs.

After a 3-pointer by redshirt freshman Haley Troup gave Missouri the lead with six minutes left, the Tigers held their ground to finish the closely contested 66-64 victory in Knoxville, Tennessee on Sunday, their first ever on the road against the Lady Vols of Tennessee.

After an inconsistent start to the season, Mizzou (13-3, 2-0 SEC) came up big at Thompson-Boling Arena to pull the upset and pick up a centerpiece win for a previously bland postseason resume.

In front of an orange and white crowd of 9,113, by far the largest Missouri has seen this season, the Tigers frustrated Tennessee’s shooters when it mattered most. The No. 10 Lady Vols (12-2, 1-1) shot 33 percent from the field in the fourth quarter, including missing two potential game-winners in the final seconds.

Senior Sophie Cunningham was as important as ever for the Tigers, contributing 20 points and grabbing an important defensive rebound with three seconds left that all but ended Tennessee’s comeback attempt. But it was Troup who made a mark with the best game of her young career.

The go-ahead 3 in the fourth quarter was a part of Troup’s 16-point performance in which she shot 4-of-6 from long range. Her 34 minutes played despite not being in the starting lineup shattered her previous career high.

“[Troup] has got a lot of ability,” Pingeton said in a video release. “I know there’s been some frustration because we haven’t seen that consistency from her, but we knew it was just a matter of time.”

The first half was especially sloppy, with the two teams forcing a combined total of 24 turnovers but usually failing to convert the takeaways into points. The Lady Vols took a 25-24 halftime lead as neither team found a consistent offensive rhythm.

The tension began to rise in the second half when Cunningham was called for an unsportsmanlike foul after elbowing Tennessee’s Rennia Davis in the face late in the third quarter. By the end of the third, Cunningham, junior Amber Smith and senior Cierra Porter each had three personal fouls for the Tigers.

But Missouri managed to stay out of any serious foul trouble in the final quarter, and ultimately outlasted Tennessee by stifling its high-octane offense and forcing the game to move at a more pedestrian pace. After averaging 82.4 points over its first 13 games, Tennessee was held to its lowest point total and shooting percentage of the season.

The Tigers excelled at spreading their production across the roster. Nine different players found the basket for Mizzou, compared with just six for the Lady Vols. Missouri’s bench outscored Tennessee’s, 25-6.

Porter, who has been under the spotlight for Missouri since rejoining the program in December, was perhaps one of the few disappointments on the team’s statsheet Sunday. She grabbed five rebounds in 13 minutes but was limited by her three fouls.

Now three games into her career revival, Porter has racked up a total of eight fouls in 38 minutes played.

Missouri improved to 5-0 on the season in true road games while bolstering both its NCAA Tournament resume and its chances at a return to the AP top 25 this week. With many more weeks of practice to work through and 14 more regular season games to play, time will tell just how significant Sunday’s win is to the Tigers’ season.

For Pingeton and her team, the thrill of knocking off a top 10 team in its own house was already more than enough reason to celebrate.

“I’m just really proud of our team,” Pingeton said in the video release. “I’ve got so much respect for Tennessee, for [coach Holly Warlick] and her staff, and just the history of this building. It’s pretty special.”

The Tigers will return to action on Thursday when the Arkansas Razorbacks visit Mizzou Arena on Thursday at 7 p.m. CST.

“Any time you get a win this big, it gives you so much confidence just to know what you can do,” Troup said in a video release. “The SEC is so hard night in and night out, and it’s easy to get down on yourself, but … we have to bounce back, and every night is a hard night in the SEC.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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