- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Kevin Puryear calls Missouri his “dream school.”

Now that the Blue Springs, Missouri, native is the leading scorer and rebounder for a school he grew up watching, Puryear really is living the dream.

Puryear scored 17 points, including 13 in the second half, and Missouri beat Northern Illinois 78-71 Friday night, handing the Huskies their first loss of the season.

“Missouri had the answer,” Huskies coach Mark Montgomery said. “They had different players that stepped up. They just made a few more plays than us.

“He’s a good player,” Montgomery said of Puryear. “I thought we had him scouted pretty well, but he found a way to make clutch shots.”

Puryear led a balanced scoring effort. Terrence Phillips had 13 points to go with six assists, Jakeenan Gant had 11 points and six rebounds, and Namon Wright added 10 points and five rebounds.

After shooting 1 for 3 in the first half, Puryear found a rhythm, shooting 5 for 7 in the second. He has reached double-digit scoring in six of his seven collegiate games.

NIU guard Marshawn Wilson led all scorers with 24 points, making all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Center Marin Maric finished with 14 points and a team-best seven rebounds.

After a quiet start, Travon Baker and Aaric Armstead combined for 16 points in the second half. Baker finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while Armstead had 10 points to go with five rebounds.

Missouri (4-3) took a one-point lead into halftime after opening on a 12-0 run. NIU (7-1) missed its first 10 shots before Maric made a layup five minutes into the first half.

NIU fought back, taking advantage of 11 first-half turnovers by Missouri. The Huskies scored 16 points off turnovers and 19 second-chance points.

“We were really sloppy down the stretch, which allowed them to get back in the game,” said Phillips, who had five of Missouri’s 15 turnovers. “We went into half, we calmed down, we came back and we just made plays in the second half.”

Phillips hit a jumper from the elbow, beginning a 15-7 run that lasted 3:02. The Tigers shot 6 for 9 during that stretch, capped by a 3-pointer from Cullen VanLeer, his only points.

Post play proved crucial for Missouri, which outscored NIU 32-24 in the paint and enjoyed a 38-34 rebounding advantage. Russell Woods added nine points and four rebounds in 15 minutes, tying his career highs. Center Ryan Rosburg had four points and seven rebounds, and Gant scored nine of his 11 points in the second half.

“The points in the paint, we’ve got to have it,” said Missouri coach Kim Anderson. “You’re not going to make jump shots every night. You’ve got to be able to pound it inside. The last two or three games, I guess we’ve gotten better at that.”

Rosburg, who saw limited playing time due to foul trouble, was impressed with Gant’s production.

“We see every day in practice, he’s capable of providing a big spark for us,” Rosburg said. “He can do a lot of things. He’s just so athletic and long. It was great to see him have some success tonight.”

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TIP-INS

Missouri: In an 88-78 win over Arkansas State Tuesday, five Missouri players scored in double figures for the first time since 2012. Wright scored 14 points, Tramaine Isabell had 11 and Rosburg, Puryear and K.J. Walton each added 10… Free-throw shooting has been key for the Tigers, who average 22.2 free-throw attempts per game, up from 17.5 attempts per game last season.

Northern Illinois: This was only the second meeting between the schools. Missouri won the first meeting 97-61 on Dec. 27, 2010 in Columbia… NIU’s 7-0 start to the season is its best since a 9-0 start in 1994… The Huskies entered the game outscoring opponents by 19.1 points per game and outrebounding them by 12.3 rebounds per game.

COURTSIDE

Missouri head football coach Barry Odom addressed Mizzou Arena from half court during halftime. Athletic director Mack Rhoades announced yesterday that Odom, after his first year as defensive coordinator, would replace Gary Pinkel in 2016. Pinkel announced his retirement last month, having been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in May.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

“I thought our guys executed well down the stretch,” Anderson said. “That’s really encouraging with a young team.”

UP NEXT

Missouri hosts Omaha next Wednesday.

NIU visits Ohio State Wednesday, Dec. 17.

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