Missouri’s Kevin Young found a way to end a week full of question marks with an exclamation point.
Thanks to a career-high 17 points and 13 rebounds from Young, the Tigers earned their first win of the season Sunday at Mizzou Arena. Missouri rallied to beat the Northwestern State Demons, erasing an eight-point second-half deficit to win 81-72.
The week hadn’t started out as triumphantly.
Tigers coach Quin Snyder challenged Young, a senior center, after he played one of his worst games as a Tiger against Sam Houston State on Nov. 14. He scored two points and committed three turnovers and four fouls in MU’s 80-77 loss.
Snyder questioned Young’s desire afterward.
“I challenged him in no uncertain terms and said some really tough things to him, and asked if he really wanted to be on this team,” Snyder said. “He asked himself some tough questions and he found some answers on his own.”
For the Tigers (1-1), who only have one other true post player in sophomore Kalen Grimes, Young’s decision to continue as a part of the team yielded great results.
Snyder, who started Grimes instead of Young, underscored his embattled senior’s play.
“You could make an argument that he was the difference down the stretch with the things he did inside,” Snyder said.
Young’s ability to bounce back from perhaps his toughest week in a trying time for the Tigers, impressed Snyder.
“I give him all the credit for that,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t some master motivational move on my part to start Kalen, it was Kevin Young showing a lot of character.”
Young said he was a spectator at the start of practice after the Sam Houston game and was unsure of what Snyder’s questions meant for him, making him uneasy and confused.
“I didn’t know if I could ask any questions, I didn’t know if I could touch anybody, I didn’t know what was going on,” Young said. “It was a weird situation.”
As Young was left watching, contemplating his suddenly murky future, his teammates offered encouragement.
“My teammates were coming up to me because they understood what was going on and they got me back involved in practice and I was able to practice and started out on the bench team,” Young said.
After practice was over, Young and Snyder settled the situation.
“We met and talked after practice and I told him I wanted to be here,” Young said.
Young wasn’t the only player to improve weak points in the Tigers’ comeback effort against the Demons (1-1).
There was Jason Horton, MU’s sophomore point guard, whose 2-for-5 free throw shooting against Sam Houston became magnified in the close loss.
Horton, who shot 35 percent on free throws in 15 Big 12 Conference games last season, made 7-of-8 free throws against Northwestern State, converting six straight to seal the game in the final two minutes.
There was senior leader Jimmy McKinney, who was held scoreless in the first half Sunday after committing three fouls.
After returning in the second half with his team trailing by eight, McKinney delivered, scoring 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
To Snyder, McKinney’s play in the second half was an encouraging sign of his leadership.
“For him to keep his concentration after having that type of first half,” Snyder said. “I think last year Jimmy might have been frustrated, might have gotten less aggressive.”
Junior Thomas Gardner, continued his hot start, leading all scorers with 25 points. He connected on 4-of-7 3-point attempts, many in response to a Demons basket.
“His threes were big, big shots because they answered something that happened at the other end,” Snyder said. “He stepped up and made some big plays.”