Puryear’s production propels Missouri over Arkansas

MU forward Kevin Puryear finished Tuesday’s win with 8 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes.
Missouri forward Kevin Puryear jumps to defend Arkansas forward Gabe Osabuohien in the first half of MU's 79-78 win over Arkansas on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

Coming into Tuesday night’s game against Arkansas, Missouri was struggling with production from the power forward position.

MU fell to Texas A&M over the weekend and was unable to exploit matchups against the Aggies’ guard-heavy lineups.

“Our fours – Kevin [Puryear] and Mitch [Smith], K.J. [Santos] – we didn’t capitalize with that advantage,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after the 68-59 loss last Saturday.

With a little over a minute to go in a 2-point game on Tuesday, a switch created a similar kind of mismatch for Puryear and Missouri fed the ball to its senior four-man.

This time, the attitude was different.

“I saw I had a smaller guy on me so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m scoring this,’” Puryear said.

Instead of scoring, Puryear made a post move and came face-to-face with Daniel Gafford. Rather than throwing up a shot, Puryear lofted the ball over the 6-foot-10-inch Arkansas center, hoping to find the hands of sophomore big man Jeremiah Tilmon.

“I was kinda worried because Daniel Gafford is a very athletic dude,” Puryear said.

The pass went over Gafford’s fingertips and into the arms of Tilmon, who threw down a dunk to give Missouri a two-possession lead with 1:12 to go. That – along with a free throw from senior point guard Jordan Geist – iced the game and gave Missouri (12-11, 3-8 SEC) its third conference win, a 79-78 victory over Arkansas (14-10, 5-6 SEC).

“It was a good play for us and it was a key play at that moment too,” Puryear said.

Puryear only played 20 minutes while dueling foul trouble, but he was able to exploit his mismatches enough to give MU production out of the four-spot that was missing over its last couple games.

“I think this was the first time, especially [with] Kevin, that at the four position we put pressure on them,” Martin said. “We gained something from the four position and we haven’t been getting a lot from that position and I thought we got something tonight.”

Puryear was able to take advantage of Arkansas’ four-guard lineups and finish with 8 points on 3-for-5 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

“Every time I had a mismatch, I posted my butt off every time,” Puryear said. “Regardless of whether I’m gonna get the ball or not, just exploit it and make it known we have a mismatch.”

Puryear started the game with two buckets in the game’s first 2:35.

“Coach has really emphasized getting the ball inside,” Puryear said. “I just tried to set the tone for the game.”

Puryear was active all game on the glass and used his size to grab a team-high five offensive rebounds, including one which led to an open triple for freshman point guard Xavier Pinson.

Puryear went to the bench with 7:24 to go in the half, but came back in with 5:49 left and scored down low and drew a foul on consecutive possessions. He made both free throws and gave Missouri a 12-point lead with 5:01 left in the first half. He picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench with all 8 of his points at the break, and Missouri went into the locker room with a 46-36 lead.

Out of the break, Puryear found Geist for a 3 in transition that gave Missouri a 14-point lead, its largest of the night, with 18:35 left. Puryear would go in-and-out the rest of the half with foul trouble before going to the bench with four fouls at 11:34 to go. Missouri had an 8-point lead when Puryear hit the bench, but it dwindled to three before he checked back in with 3:37 to go.

The senior forward guarded the ball on the game-deciding inbound play with 10 seconds left and prevented a post feed to Gafford, who finished with a game-high 26. Instead, he forced an inbound to a guard who threw up a shot that landed short as the buzzer sounded.

His stat line wasn’t eye-popping, but his effect on the court was evident. In his 20 minutes of play, Missouri outscored Arkansas by 8 points. In his 20 minutes on the bench, the Tigers were outscored by 7.

“We spent a lot of time in practice trying to get him going,” Martin said. “We have to get some production and he has it in him, as he’s proven before. We just have to keep pushing. I thought he had a really good game.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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