Missouri provides hope for the future over mini win streak

Missouri’s underclassmen gave glimpses of what they could become in the future.
Truman the Tiger dances with the Mizzou Golden Girls during a timeout in the basketball game against Tennessee on Feb. 13 in Mizzou Arena.

For a moment, fans of the Missouri men’s basketball team caught a glimpse of what their future could hold.

Missouri was down 63-62 to South Carolina entering the final two minutes of a game that had been controlled by the Tigers. However, the loyal patrons who had made the trip to Mizzou Arena saw their team in an all too familiar position even after seeing some of the best basketball Missouri had played in the 2015-16 season.

Then, when all seemed lost, the crowd was brought to its feet in jubilant applause by the future of the Tigers.

Freshman guard Terrence Phillips took over and brought his team back into the lead with 4 points, a rebound and an assist as the game clock ticked toward zero. After the final buzzer sounded, Phillips gave a sly grin to the crowd despite his exhaustion, showing a confidence that had been missing from the Tigers the entire season.

Despite holding a record of 10-17 (3-11 SEC), Missouri can look to the future, which appears bright under coach Kim Anderson’s youthful squad.

“These guys have worked really hard,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to see this group have some success because they have worked hard. It was hard on them.”

Besides Phillips, fellow freshman guard K.J. Walton has seen massive improvements to his game as the season has worn on. With Wes Clark’s dismissal from the team, it appears that Walton will battle with freshman sharpshooter Cullen VanLeer for the team’s second guard position next year.

“I thought (K.J.) hit the wall a week ago, and he broke through it,” Anderson said. “I thought he was struggling a little bit as all freshmen do. He’s a guy who’s slippery and slithery, he can get the ball to the basket. We need him.”

To add to Missouri’s potential, freshman forward Kevin Puryear, who leads the team in points per game, has shown no signs of slowing down as the season has worn on. While he is the focal point of every team facing Mizzou, Puryear still averages 12 points per game and dropped a season-high 23 on Saturday against a stingy Arkansas defense.

“It’s like I always tell him, the other team has film too,” Anderson said. “You’re going to have to work that much harder. The good thing is now guys are going to start contributing around him.”

Missouri only has to look to the Gamecocks to see that player development is still possible in the modern world of one-and-done players.

Three seasons ago, South Carolina finished second-to-last in the Southeastern Conference with a 14-18 record (4-14 SEC). That team fielded five freshmen on its roster.

Now, three of the then-freshmen start as seniors and average 34 combined points per game. While South Carolina’s 2012-13 roster is not nearly as young as Missouri’s current one, there are comparisons that can be drawn between the two.

“We’re real happy for Kim and his kids,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I’ve been in that situation, we’ve been in that situation a couple years ago where your kids continue to fight, fight, fight and deal with adversity.”

So while Missouri will finish with a losing record this season and will likely stay in the basement of the SEC, the key for the Tigers is to continue to make progress with the team they have so they may roar again one day.

For now, Missouri is just trying to improve one game at a time and disrupt other teams’ postseason bids if possible.

“The past few games, it has felt like a different team,” sophomore guard Namon Wright said. “We’re going to try to ruin some teams’ record.”

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