COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) After hanging on against No. 19 Arkansas earlier in the week, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said his team played the final five minutes ”not to lose.”
He was prouder of the Vols’ effort Saturday after defeating Missouri 59-51, watching his team use a 14-3 run in the closing minutes to gradually pull away from the Tigers. The result gave Tennessee (11-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) wins in its first two SEC road games for the first time since 2009.
”The biggest thing is our team is learning how to win,” Tyndall said. ”They’re getting tougher every single night. They’re gaining confidence every night.
”This young, inexperienced team could have folded, and they didn’t.”
Armani Moore scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Kevin Punter added 12 points and Derek Reese 10 points.
Namon Wright led Missouri (7-10, 1-3) with 13 points to finish as the only player in double figures. The Tigers led 46-43 following a layup from Jakeenan Gant with five minutes to go but wouldn’t score again for 3 1/2 minutes.
”Disappointing loss, to be honest with you,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. ”Really disappointing loss.”
The Tigers lost 86-37 to No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday and Tennessee dropped a 56-38 decision to Alabama on Jan. 10, and both teams revisited those offensive struggles, combining to make one of their first nine shots from the field.
After trading baskets for most of the opening half, Missouri used a 6-0 run to grab a 21-17 lead with 4:14 left before the break. The Volunteers then answered with the following seven points en route to leading 26-24 at halftime.
Devon Baulkman made two free throws with 13:52 remaining to increase Tennessee’s lead to 37-29, but Missouri fought back, scoring nine of the next 11 points. Neither team was able to build a two-possession lead again until Reese drained a short jumper to make it 50-46 Volunteers with 2:07 remaining.
The Tigers couldn’t answer.
”This team needs something good to happen,” said Anderson, whose team has lost three consecutive games. ”We beat LSU and now we’re in a rut again.”
Johnathan Williams III leads Missouri this season with 13 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but scored all eight of his points Saturday in the first half. He finished 4 of 9 shooting after scoring three points in the loss to the Wildcats.
Tramaine Isabell and Keith Shamburger also added eight points apiece for the Tigers, who shot 20 of 55 (36.4 percent) from the field and just 3 of 6 from the free throw line. Isabell sat out the first half while suspended for poor effort shown in practices, Anderson said.
Tennessee: The Vols finished 18 of 20 at the free throw line after finishing 14 of 26 against Arkansas. Tennessee shot 19 of 49 (38.8 percent) from the field.
Missouri: Officials announced attendance at 10,359, the first time in nine home games this season the number of fans topped 8,000 in the 15,061-capacity Mizzou Arena.
Anderson reinstated Deuce Bello after suspending the guard for five games for academic reasons, but said Bello didn’t play Saturday because of a sprained ankle. Montaque Gill-Caesar returned after missing three games with a back injury, going scoreless in nine minutes.
CARDINALS IN TOWN
One of the loudest cheers of the game occurred when several current and former St. Louis Cardinals players, including closer Trevor Rosenthal, were introduced with 2:38 remaining in the first half.
The team visited Columbia – about 100 miles west of St. Louis – to sign autographs and raise awareness for its upcoming season.
Tennessee plays at South Carolina on Tuesday.
Missouri plays at Texas A&M on Wednesday