Missouri men’s basketball edges Central Missouri in exhibition game

The Tigers defeated the Mules, a Division-II team, 66-59 on Friday.

When Missouri struggled to pull away from Central Missouri early in the second half on Friday, freshman center Reed Nikko provided a helping hand.

Well, two hands actually.

With the game tied early in the second half, Nikko came off the bench and slammed home a powerful two-handed dunk. He followed it up with a three-point play shortly after.

Not bad for a freshman who was limited for most of the offseason after undergoing dual hip surgery.

“They probably didn’t know, and I didn’t know Reed was going to come out like that,” freshman Willie Jackson said. “When he did it, I was like, ‘I’m with you.’”

The Tigers weren’t completely with Nikko and his momentum-shifting plays, though. After building an 18-point lead in the second half, Missouri held on to edge Division II team Central Missouri 66-59 in an exhibition game at Mizzou Arena on Friday.

Missouri coach Kim Anderson and his players are just glad this close call happened before the season started.

“I hope I prove myself right — I think this is the best thing that could have happened to us, to be honest with you,” Anderson said.

During the game, it certainly didn’t look like the best thing that could have happened to the Tigers. Missouri opened the game shooting 8-27 from the floor and held a 23-19 lead at halftime.

Central Missouri would have likely led at half if it hadn’t shot even worse than the Tigers in the first half.

“I don’t think I have ever had a team shoot 19 percent in a half and to be down four,” Mules coach Doug Karleskint said. “A lot of credit goes to our defense.”

Anderson attributed Missouri’s poor start to nerves. Jackson saw the Tigers’ approach as their biggest downfall.

“I was more mad at the level we were on,” Jackson said. “That should never happen.”

Missouri came out stronger in the second half, but Central Missouri wasn’t going to concede the victory easily. Jordan Geist ran with the momentum Nikko created and built it into an 18-point second-half lead as he shot multiple three-pointers. Geist, who came off the bench, finished with 11 points and four rebounds.

Missouri appeared set to coast to a victory. Central Missouri had other ideas.

The Mules drew within three with 40 seconds left in the game, but they could not close the gap late. Frankie Hughes, who led the team with 15 points, finished Central Missouri off with a late dunk.

“We started settling and getting too relaxed instead of pounding them,” Jackson said.

Because Missouri relaxed in the second half, the Tigers won’t get to relax Saturday. Anderson said they will practice after plans to originally have the day off.

Both Anderson and his players are glad they got this game out of their system with the season opener next Sunday, a game that will actually count.

“I think we maybe needed a little bit of a wake-up call,” Anderson said.

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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