Tigers top Razorbacks in Rally for Rhyan game

Missouri is now 5-0 in the annual fundraiser for pediatric cancer research.
Missouri's Reed Nikko dunks the ball in action against Arkansas on Feb. 8, 2020.

In a game filled with fouls, in an arena filled with the season’s biggest crowd, Missouri men’s basketball (11-12, 3-7 SEC) picked up an overtime victory over border-state rivals Arkansas (16-7, 4-6 SEC), winning 83-79.

The teams combined for 59 fouls and only six 3-pointers across 45 minutes of action on Saturday afternoon, playing in front of 11,439 fans at Mizzou Arena.

It was Missouri’s fifth victory in its annual Rally for Rhyan game, a fundraiser for pediatric cancer research that was no doubt partially responsible for the large crowd.

“It’s important,” coach Cuonzo Martin, a cancer survivor himself, said. “But I think that’s twofold. The fans jump on board because of the game … anytime you can support pediatric cancer [research], I think it’s very important.”

Fans who came were treated to a back-and-forth spectacle.

The Tigers stayed in front of the Razorbacks for almost the entire first half, trailing for less than a minute before entering the break with a six-point lead and 11 of their 36 points coming on a second opportunity to score.

Senior forward Reed Nikko jumped out to a quick start, grabbing the first points of the game and four rebounds – all offensive – in the first two minutes. He had seven points in as many minutes by halftime en route to picking up his first career double-double.

Arkansas’ most productive offensive player, junior guard Mason Jones, struggled from the field in the first half, making only one shot, but quickly found his feet in the second.

A string of seven consecutive missed shots for Missouri, four of them from beyond the arc, allowed the Razorbacks to tie the game. The Tigers re-built their lead, but Arkansas continually marched back to keep things close.

In what could have been a momentum-killer, Nikko fouled out of the game with just over three minutes to go. But with the crowd engaged thanks to a tight game, momentum proved to be no issue.

With a tie game and 21.4 seconds to play, the Tigers elected to play for the last shot. Sophomore guard Xavier Pinson had a lane to take the ball to the rim but held onto the ball for a moment too long. He kicked the ball out to freshman forward Tray Jackson, but the Tigers couldn’t get anything off before the shot clock expired, giving the Razorbacks the ball under their own basket with 3.5 seconds left.

There wasn’t enough time for Arkansas to engineer more than a running floater, sending the game to overtime with both teams knotted up at 67 points apiece. It was a lackluster end to regulation, but not enough to rattle Pinson.

“It’s basketball,” he said. “You’ve gotta be prepared for five [extra] minutes.”

Missouri proved to be the far more effective team in the extra period. A little over a minute into overtime and defending a one-point lead, redshirt junior forward Mitchell Smith drew an offensive foul to win the Tigers an extra possession. He found a speeding Pinson in stride on the ensuing play, and the guard picked up an and-one at the rim to put Missouri up by four.

The lead – which was as big as seven points – would bend but not break through defensive stops and the Tigers’ well-established ability to take advantage of free throws. The Razorbacks brought the game within a single possession, but Jackson threw down a dunk – one of three on the day – and Pinson solidified the win at the charity stripe, finishing 12-13 on free throws.

Junior forward Jeremiah Tilmon, who returned to limited action against Texas A&M, and junior guard Mark Smith, who was available but unused, both sat out.

Martin said Smith wasn’t quite 100% healthy, but “was probably able to go.”

Missouri faces No. 18 LSU (17-6, 8-2 SEC), fresh off an overtime loss to No. 11 Auburn, on the road on Tuesday.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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