Jordan Geist broke a tie with two free throws with 1:42 remaining, and Missouri held on to beat Kennesaw State 55-52 on Friday afternoon in the opening round of the eight-team Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
The Tigers (2-1) will advance to play Oregon State, a 61-56 winner over Old Dominion, in one of Sunday’s semifinals.
The Owls (1-3) will meet Old Dominion in the consolation bracket.
Missouri, a 20-game winner last season, struggled offensively and found itself in a 50-all tie with 2:32 remaining after a jumper by Kennesaw State’s Kosta Jankovic.
Jeremiah Tilmon then made a key play for the Tigers when he retrieved a Javon Pickett 3-pointer that had been blocked by the Owls’ Tyler Hooker, setting up a foul that sent Geist to the line for his critical free throws that produced a 52-50 lead.
Kennesaw, a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, had subsequent chances to tie or go ahead, but Hooker misfired on a 3-pointer and, after an offensive rebound by Isaac Mbuyamba, the Tigers stole the ball, leading to a game-clinching layup by Mark Smith with seven seconds left.
Kyle Clarke got Kennesaw back within 54-52 with a layup with still two seconds to go, but Kevin Puryear capped an 17-point game by making one of two free throws with one second left, creating the final margin.
Tilmon was a second player in double figures with 12 points for the Tigers, who overcame 3-for-17 shooting from 3-point range and just a 19-point second half to prevail.
Tilmon and Kennesaw’s Mbuyamba shared game-high rebounding honors with nine.
Jankovic and Hooker scored 13 points apiece, and Clarke added 10 for the Owls, a 20-game loser last season who lost their third straight.
Missouri led by as many as 11 points in the first half before the Owls closed the period on a 9-2 run to get within 36-32 at the break. Jankovic had a pair of hoops and Hooker a 3-pointer in the rally.
—Field Level Media