Cuonzo Martin’s first game against Tennessee since he led the Vols to a 24-13 record and Sweet 16 appearance four years ago was as hard fought as expected on Wednesday night.
Missouri (13-5 overall, 3-2 SEC) beat No. 21-ranked Tennessee 59-55 at sold-out Mizzou Arena in a defensive battle that saw both teams struggle to get off clean looks.
“One thing we said to our guys, it will be a street fight,” Martin said on SEC Network after the game. “They are a really good 3-point shooting team, and we wanted to take away the 3-ball.”
Tennessee’s guards struggled to score: Jordan Bone was 0-for-6 shooting , Jordan Bowden was 1 for 7, Lamonte Turner was 1 for 5 and James Daniel lll was 2 for 4 from the floor and missed a critical free throw in the closing seconds.
“We knew it would be a tough, physical game,” said Martin, who was known for his defensive brand of basketball during his tenure as the Vols’ coach. “I like it ugly …. we did enough to win the game.”
Tennessee (12-5, 3-3) led by as many as 8 points in the first half and didn’t trail until Missouri opened the second half on a 7-0 run.
Martin said the crowd helped get his team going.
“When you’re trying to be a great program, you need tremendous crowd support,” Martin said. “We had great energy and great passion, and it was fun to be a part of it.”
The Tigers missed their first 10 shot attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, but when they final did hit one with 16 minutes, 8 seconds left, it gave Missouri a 34-27 lead. At the half, Missouri was 0 for 7 from three.
“I said to our guys at half, it’s a tie ball game and we’re in a great shape; we haven’t made any threes,” Martin said. “I said I know they will eventually fall.”
Kevin Puryear led Missouri with 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.