- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - After a 62-52 loss to North Carolina Central Monday night, Missouri coach Kim Anderson required his players to practice the entire week without wearing team athletic gear.

He didn’t wear any either.

However unorthodox the method, it would appear the message got through.

Frankie Hughes had 18 points and four rebounds as Missouri narrowly escaped Western Kentucky in a 59-56 victory Saturday.

Kevin Puryear had 12 points and five rebounds, including 8 points in the second half, and Russell Woods scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, tying a team high.

The Tigers (4-3) held a 10-point lead near the 12-minute mark, but the Hilltoppers whittled it away, mounting a 14-5 run while Missouri missed its final eight field goal attempts.

Pancake Thomas missed a 3-pointer with :04 seconds remaining and Missouri guard Cullen VanLeer secured off the rebound before being fouled. He sank two free-throws to extend the Tigers’ one-point lead before the Hilltoppers’ last-second half-court shot fell short. Thomas finished with nine points and five rebounds on 3-for-12 shooting.

Hughes stressed the impact of this win on the team’s morale.

“It’s most definitely a confidence booster,” Hughes said. “Of course, coming off the disappointment from last game, we were coming in with a locked-in mindset, just trying to basically focus in on what (the opponents) do, and just trying to get stops and let our defense create our offense.”

Anderson discussed the details of motivating his players following Monday’s loss.

“They worked hard all week,” Anderson said. “They worked hard in white cotton t-shirts and black cotton shorts that we bought from a local department store. They didn’t wear Missouri gear all week.”

Western Kentucky (3-5) jumped out to an early 9-3 lead while Missouri shot 3-for-13 from the field to start the game. Hughes was the only Missouri player to score for a 5:09 window of the first half, scoring 12 points, including three consecutive 3-pointers.

The Hilltoppers missed their final four shots of the first half, allowing Missouri to close on a 7-0 run. By halftime, the Tigers led 33-30 despite shooting 29-percent to the Hilltoppers’ 43.3.

Justin Johnson led the Hilltoppers with 14 points and five rebounds, and Que Johnson added 12 points and a team-best eight rebounds.

The Tigers outrebounded Western Kentucky 44-30, their largest rebounding margin since their season-opening 99-44 victory when they outrebounded Alabama A&M; 43-29. 

“Probably a couple years ago, Missouri wouldn’t have won a close game, so give them some credit,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. “There’s no question this is Kim’s best team he’s had. He’s doing a really good job with them. When you win some close games like that, it gives your kids a lot of confidence, too.”

HIGHLIGHT REEL

With 12:04 seconds remaining, VanLeer stole the ball in the low post from Que Johnson and threw a full-court lob pass over several Western Kentucky players, finding Hughes in stride for a two-handed breakaway dunk.

HALFTIME HEAVE

Missouri undergraduate student Aaron Brown won $5,000 during the halftime show after sinking a half-court shot. Brown made more free-throws than another eligible contestant in order to advance to the grand prize opportunity.

BIG PICTURE

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers are in the midst of a seven-game road stretch. They last played at home on Nov. 22 in a 77-56 win over North Carolina A&T; and will return to E.A. Diddle Arena to host Ohio Dec. 21.

Missouri: Jackson is the Tigers’ leading scorer through seven games, averaging 14.1 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game. Puryear is the second leading scorer on the team, averaging 11.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Puryear led Missouri in scoring as a freshman in 2015 with 11.5 points per game.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky visits Indiana State Dec. 11.

Missouri hosts Miami (Ohio) Monday.


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