‘Reed Nikko changed the game’: Nikko drives second-half comeback for Missouri

The big man drew heavy praise from Bulldogs coach Tom Crean after the game.
Reed Nikko stands waiting for Mizzou's offense to bring the ball up the court.

Minutes after Missouri men’s basketball came back from a 20-point deficit to beat Georgia 72-69, Bulldogs coach Tom Crean had one thing on his mind: Reed Nikko.

Before he had even fully sat down for his postgame press conference, Crean was lauding the performance of the senior forward from Maple Grove, Minnesota.

“Momentum is always up for grabs and in the second half. Reed Nikko took momentum from us,” Crean said. “We didn’t have any way to stem it, even though we were right in it.”

Nikko was on Crean’s mind for good reason. He scored 11 points in the second half to help the Tigers after trailing by double digits with fewer than seven minutes to play.

A dunk from Nikko brought Missouri within one point at the three-minute mark, and he hit two free throws on the next possession to put the Tigers ahead.

Then, with 11 seconds to go in the game, he played defense.

With the Bulldogs down two points, playing for a game-tying basket, Xavier Pinson and Javon Pickett collided and fell to the floor. That left Georgia standout Anthony Edwards — who’s being talked about as a potential No. 1 NBA draft pick — with an open lane to the rim. He looked to have breezed past Missouri’s defenders in the paint and went for a lay-up — until Nikko swatted the ball into the bottom of the backboard from behind.

After the game, Nikko made it sound easy.

“I stepped up because I knew it was going to probably be [Edwards] that’s going to try to make that basket,” he said. “He’s the one I had to worry about. I was able to get a hand on it initially … At that point, he’s going up and you’re going up and one of you is going to make the play.”

The play essentially sealed the game for the Tigers: with less than 10 seconds to go, the Bulldogs were forced to foul and rely on Edwards to try a desperate long-range 3-pointer.

Or, as Crean put it, “Reed Nikko changed the game.”

“He brought what he always brings,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Intelligence, leadership … the second half, we needed him to have a presence offensively.”

Nikko, along with redshirt junior Mitchell Smith, is one of two players to have played under former coach Kim Anderson. In his four seasons, he’s only started 11 games, barely averaging more than 10 minutes a game.

He played 26 against Georgia, posting career highs in minutes and points (13). Missouri scored 16 more points than the Bulldogs while he was on the floor.

It was a memorable performance by all accounts: a team comeback in front of a home crowd, and a few plays that would make any basketball big man proud. Maybe that’s why he let out a celebratory scream from the floor after the block.

“I was happy,” he said. “Very happy.”

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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