Bearkats upset Missouri in NIT Opener

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Ryan Bright picked the perfect time to have a career night.

The Sam Houston State sophomore made a pair of crucial 3-pointers late in the second half and finished with 28 points Monday night as Bearkats beat Missouri 80-77 in the opening round of the Preseason NIT.

It’s the third straight season the Tigers have lost to a lower-tier Division I school. In 2003 it was Belmont. Last season it was Davidson.

“The only redeeming thing about it is it’s the first game,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “I’m stunned with our effort and togetherness.”

Sam Houston State will face Drexel in the second round of the tournament.

Bright’s biggest basket was a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left that put the Bearkats up 76-71. He also hit a 3-pointer with 1:52 left that gave the Bearkats the lead for good.

Bright was 4-for-5 from behind the arc in the second half and 6-for-7 on the game. He also had seven rebounds and four assists.

“I’ve never shot like that in my life before,” Bright said. “Like Kelvin [Williams] said in the locker room, ‘I thought the ball had angel wings on it.'”

Thomas Gardner hit a pair of 3-pointers for Missouri and Jimmy McKinney added another with under a minute left. The Tigers had a chance to tie the game after Sam Houston State’s Jejuan Plair missed two free throws with 7.2 seconds left, but Jason Horton’s 3-pointer at the buzzer fell short.

“Our team hung together when things got tough,” Bearkats coach Bob Marlin said.

After trailing for more than 16 minutes, the Tigers took the lead with 13:32 left in the game and were ahead 55-50 with 8:37 left. But then Bright came through with another pair of 3-pointers.

“We played like a team’s that’s rich and we’re poor, dirt poor,” Snyder said.

John Gardiner had 11 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Bearkats, who outrebounded Missouri 39-34.

“We played terrible. I played terrible,” Missouri’s Kevin Young said.

Gardner finished with 23, and Marshall Brown added 20 for the Tigers.

“It’s not time to panic, but it can’t happen again,” Snyder said.

The Bearkats led by as many as 10 in the first half behind Bright, last year’s Southland Conference Freshman of the Year.

“We hit with the first punch in the first half,” Marlin said.

Gardner kept Missouri close, scoring eight straight points during a seven-minute span in the first half. Marcus Watkins cut the lead to 32-27 at the half after getting his own rebound and making a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

It’s the second straight year Sam Houston State has opened its season at Mizzou Arena. Last year, the Bearkats lost to Houston in the opening round of the Guardians Classic.

It’s Missouri’s third appearance in the Preseason NIT and Sam Houston State’s first. The Tigers lost in the first round of the 1998-99 tournment and in the championship game in 1988-89.

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