COLUMBIA— After the whistle blew, all Bri Kulas could do was grin and shake her head side to side.
With 2:02 left to play on Senior Night at Mizzou Arena, the referee signaled for a charging foul and sent Missouri's lone senior in uniform to the sidelines for the remainder of the competition.
Kulas, the Tigers' leading scorer, had done her best to end her career at Missouri on a good note, providing a team-high 26 points in 36 minutes of action.
While trailing by one point to a struggling Ole Miss team and with Missouri's unquestioned leader headed to the sidelines, junior guard Morgan Eye gathered her teammates in a huddle.
Eye delivered a simple message to her teammates.
"We are going to finish this game for Bri," she said. "We are going to finish this game for our seniors."
Despite her obvious frustration, Kulas had faith her teammates could close the game out without her.
"I knew that my teammates had my back, so I knew that they were going to finish the game for me," Kulas said.
In the closing minutes, that's exactly what Missouri did. The Tigers knocked down six straight free throws, got the stops they needed on defense and sealed a 75-72 victory over the Rebels (10-19, 1-14 Southeastern Conference).
It was a back-and-forth game from the opening tip to the final whistle. The lead changed hands 14 times, and neither team opened up a double-digit lead throughout the contest.
The Missouri (17-10, 6-9) offense opened up the game doing what it does best: shooting from the outside. Missouri’s first nine points came from beyond the arc.
The Tigers continued to attack from the outside throughout the first period. Nearly half of Missouri’s first-half field goals attempts (13 of 27) came from 3-point range.
But despite plenty of open opportunities from deep, the Tigers’ shooters were unable to do much damage and made only five of those 13 tries.
Mississippi's point guard Valencia McFarland followed up her career-best 29 point performance against Mississippi State on Sunday with an active first half. McFarland scored 11 points of her 19 points in the first half, and the speedy guard took advantage of Missouri turnovers for a couple coast-to-coast basket.
Throughout the half, neither team opened up anything more than a two-possession lead. Ole Miss took a 34-29 lead into the intermission.
After dropping behind by eight early in the second half, Missouri's shooters responded. The Tigers went on a 15-4 run spanning 3:13 that was capped off by back-to-back 3-pointers from Eye.
The Tigers connected on seven of their first nine 3-point attempts in the second half, but was unable to open up a large lead on the Rebels, who kept pace by making their first eleven free throw attempts of the half.
Ole Miss guard Diara Moore scored 14 of her 23 points in the second half and put her team in position to get their first win in eight competitions.
However, in the end, a Missouri team rallying behind its seniors proved to be too much for Ole Miss.
The Tigers were happy to end Kulas' home career with a win, but understand the senior will leave a gaping hole in the program next season.
However, not everyone at Mizzou Arena was quite so sad to see Kulas go.
"In a way, I'm glad she's graduating because I'm about tired of playing against her, and she's only been here for two years," Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said.
After facing the worst defense in the SEC, Missouri’s offense will face a tougher test in Fayetteville, Ark., on Sunday as the Tigers wrap up their regular season against Arkansas.
Arkansas boasts the conference’s top defense, limiting opponents to an average of 53.2 points per game. Arkansas handed Missouri its first conference loss of the season 69-66 at Mizzou Arena on Jan. 5.
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.