Mizzou’s Kevin Puryear is more productive with less court time

In a year featuring no shortage of change for Mizzou basketball, the season started far from familiar for junior Kevin Puryear.

Puryear, a 6-7 power forward, started 63 consecutive games over a two-year stretch where the Tigers fared 18-45. He was the only player besides Jonathan Williams III to start each game over his first two seasons since Mizzou moved to the SEC in 2012.

Puryear’s streak would ultimately end on November 10 when Mizzou showcased a starting lineup of four first-year Tigers in its 74-59 season-opening victory over Iowa State. But the Blue Springs South High product left an impact with a team-high 17 points in 29 minutes off the bench before Mizzou’s first sellout crowd in four years.

“It was the environment, just a new journey with these guys,” Kevin Puryear said. “It was just the joy of playing the game.”

Kevin Puryear led Blue Springs South to its first Class 5 state championship as a senior in 2015 at Mizzou Arena. He scored 30 points and the game-winner buzzer-beater three-pointer in overtime to beat Auburn last March 8 in the SEC tournament in Nashville. So Puryear has thrived in pressure situations and in big moments.

Kevin Puryear has started every game since the opener, filling in an urgent vacancy. Five-star recruit Michael Porter Jr. left his NCAA college debut in the first two minutes with an injury. He had back surgery and is expected to be out for the remainder of the season.

After embracing a high-leverage role in his first two seasons, Kevin Puryear has seen his court time diminish by nearly five minutes a game. The tradeoff allows first-year head coach Cuonzo Martin to utilize newcomers and returners in on-court roles suited for their strengths.

Heavy-minute roles have switched to Kassisus Robertson, a graduate transfer who leads the team in scoring heading into conference play. Senior Jordan Barnett has also elevated his game with three double-doubles, while freshmen Jontay Porter and Blake Harris lead the team in rebounds and assists.

All of these trends represent Puryear’s revised approach.

“Freshman and sophomore year, I was more of a leader in terms of just being the best player, going out and scoring, but there’s more to being a leader than that.” Puryear said.

“There’s vocal leadership, being the best teammate I can be and forming better relationships with all of my teammates.”

Kevin Puryear still fulfills many of the same on-court responsibilities he embraced in the Kim Anderson coaching era, just with more opportunity for rest with a stronger supporting cast surrounding him.

“I’ve always been expected to run the floor, I’ve always been expected to rebound and to finish around the rim and get to the line,” Puryear said. “Coach Martin expects those same things out of me.”

Kevin Puryear is on pace for his third straight-season averaging in double-figure points, yet there is room for him to play an even more pivotal role. After the Braggin’ Rights game loss to Illinois in St. Louis, Martin said the team needed more production from Puryear and Jontay Porter.

“Those for us are X-factors,” Martin said. “They can do a lot of different things.”

Mizzou finished non-conference play with double-digit wins for the first time in four years, highlighted by a five-game winning streak and true road win. The benchmarks once seemed unattainable in Puryear’s first two years are now an expectation.

Although the turnaround may seem small for a program that has finished in the SEC cellar three straight years, it represents a start to the renewed culture of the Mizzou basketball program and the talent surrounding Puryear.

“I think we have one of the most unselfish groups of guys in the country,” Puryear said.

As the Tigers transition into conference play, Kevin Puryear may play a slightly less involved role compared to his time as an underclassman. But his contributions may be more valuable than ever for a Mizzou team with aspirations for its first NCAA tournament bid since the 2012-13 season.

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Article by Joey Schneider

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