COLUMBIA, MO – The Tigers, led by Sophie Cunningham with 17 points and 10 rebounds, disrupted the Western Illinois’ four-game win streak Tuesday night (Nov. 29) with a nail-biting 71-68 win over the Leathernecks on their home court. The back-and-forth play from start to finish kept fans on the edge of their seats until the final seconds of the game.
“Well, we said they weren’t always going to be pretty, and this one certainly wasn’t [pretty] for us tonight,” said Missouri head coach Robin Pingeton.
The first half started out bumpy for the Tigers, who struggled to get through WIU’s rock solid, zone style defense.
“It’s a pretty unique defense we’ve been playing all year,” Western Illinois head coach JD Gravina said. “I think it has confused a lot of teams so far, which may be part of the reason for our hot start.”
Both teams battled in the first half with Western Illinois hounding the Tigers defensively. The Leathernecks made their presence known and were quick to step on Missouri right out of the gates. Western Illinois’ defensive tenacity forced seven turnovers in the first half alone — all while making it tough for the Tigers to establish an inside presence.
“I do believe the travel we’ve had has played a toll on where we’re at right now,” Pingeton noted. “This is a big academic week for us, so I think everyone is looking forward to a day off tomorrow and a chance to regroup.”
The second period turned around for the Tigers when Jordan Chavis, a 5’7” freshman guard, did what she does best: drain threes when Missouri needs them most. Chavis, who is the only freshman in the SEC to make five three-pointers in a game this season, connected on three treys tonight to help give the Tigers a 34-31 advantage going into the second half.
Missouri only led by as many as six points for the entirety of the game. At the beginning of the third quarter, Western Illinois quickly closed in on their two-possession deficit and tied the game yet again in the fifth minute.
Both teams continued to have answers for the other as neither squad led by more than three points in the final five minutes of the game. Cunningham muscled through the Western Illinois defense to end the period with an impressive layup at the buzzer to hold on to a 53-52 lead going into the fourth period.
Both teams were neck and neck in the final 10 minutes until back-to-back fouls in the final minute of the game sent Cunningham to the charity stripe. She undeniably kept her composure, sinking three of her four shots to make the score 71-68, in favor of the Tigers, with only 15.5 seconds left to go. Cunningham was just 6-18 from the floor, but finished with 17 crucial points to help Missouri get back in the win column.
“I kind of get frustrated when the ball’s not falling, but I’m starting to learn that I do so much more than just score,” Cunningham said. “So it’s them telling me to just keep it up — props to my coaching staff and teammates as well.”
Missouri remained strong and was able to hold off the Leathernecks in the final seconds of the game. Despite a decent look from three-point land by Western Illinois’ Michelle Farrow, who made two from beyond the arc earlier in the game, the Tigers held on.
The Tigers will take on in-state opponent Missouri State this Friday at home at 7 p.m. C.T.