Gomillion comes back just in time to save the Tigers

Tre Gomillion had had enough.

For seven consecutive games, Gomillion had sat and cheered. Sidelined by a groin injury, Gomillion was missing the first games of his four-year college career. He was close to playing. He would go through pre-game warmups, running and sometimes even dunking. But when the ball went up for real, Gomillion sat down. And he stayed sitting for 280 consecutive minutes from Mizzou’s win at Ole Miss on January 24th through an 89-56 humiliation at Auburn on Valentine’s Day.

The day after that loss to Auburn, Gomillion asked for a meeting with head coach Dennis Gates.

“He respectfully challenged me in my office,” Gates said. “And said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to play.’”

Gomillion returned to the floor in Missouri’s 69-60 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. He played just three minutes. On Tuesday night, in a 66-64 overtime win against Mississippi State, Gomillion played 28 minutes and 11 seconds, his most this season. It was a win that might have saved Missouri’s season and pointed the Tigers straight back toward the NCAA Tournament. And it doesn’t happen without Gomillion.

Dree Gholston didn’t give us the necessary quality minutes and Tre was able to step up,” Gates said.

Gholston, a regular starter for Mizzou and a semi-regular hero himself, had missed all three of his shots and had three turnovers in 16 minutes. He came out of the game with 17 minutes and 51 seconds to play in the second half and did not return.

Gomillion scored all eight of his points in the final 18 minutes of regulation. He grabbed four of his ten rebounds and had two steals. In overtime, he grabbed three more boards and assisted on one of the Tigers’ three made three-pointers.

“He’s what we’ve been missing and we’re happy that he’s back,” Gates said.

“It was eating me alive not to be out there for that Auburn game because I thought that game we might have lacked some energy or spark,” Gomillion said. “So it was going to have to happen either when we got back or the next day. We talked. It was man to man. There was no raising of the voice. We let each other talk and I think it kind of worked out tonight.”

Indeed. It may have saved the season. Missouri had lost two in a row and was sliding toward the bubble. Most bracketologists still had them in the NCAA Tournament, but lose to the Bulldogs and all bets were off, not to mention the negative momentum such a gutpunch might have caused. Gomillion wasn’t going to let that happen.

“It was a little bit of steam I had to let out after being out for so long,” he said. “That just drove me crazier and crazier and it just built up and I got a chance to let a little bit of it out tonight.”

Gomillion is not the likeliest hero on this Missouri team. He played 90 games at Cleveland State for Gates. He started every one. He averaged 9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists as he helped Gates resurrect the program. But that was the Horizon League. How is a 6-foot-4 guard who isn’t overly athletic going to translate to the SEC, probably the most athletic league in the country? Missouri fans were, to be kind, curious exactly why Gates brought Gomillion along in a transfer heavy class for his first year in Columbia.

Tuesday night was why. It was an ugly game, a defensive struggle with a whole lot of missed shots and physical play. It was the type of game that this Missouri team has not won all year. Literally. The Tigers had won 19 times, mostly by racing up and down the floor and firing a whole bunch of three-pointers. In every one of those games, they had scored at least 70 points. When they had failed to reach that mark, the Tigers were 1-and-8. Tuesday wasn’t exactly a prototypical Missouri game. But it was a prototypical Tre Gomillion game.

“Can’t really put a word on it,” Nick Honor, Tuesday’s more celebrated hero, said when asked to describe what Gomillion brings to the team. “He’s just a valuable player. Probably the most valuable player we have. He’s a glue guy. He just does everything nobody else wants to do.

“One of the best teammates I’ve ever had. I don’t think he gets enough credit but if you really watch the game you can see the impact he makes.”

The win may not lock up the Tigers’ tournament status, but it comes awfully close. Missouri has three games remaining. They are all against teams in the bottom five of the league standings. The path is pretty clear.

Gates believes Gomillion has a future in this game.

“He’ll be on our staff one day,” the head coach said. “He’ll probably lead the country in technical fouls. He’’ll probably be very impatient. It sounds like how I was as a player.”

You know, the kind of guy with the gall to call a meeting with his head coach and demand to get back in the lineup. Gates thinks Gomillion will have a professional career before he gets into coaching. But before that, he has a few more games—and almost certainly two tournaments—as a Missouri Tiger.

“He’ll evolve, but we don’t need him to evolve any time soon,” Gates said. “He plays with a lot of passion. And that passion can be seen. It can be literally seen every step he takes on that court.”

Gomillion had one more message that will make his coach happy. That steam he had to release?

“I don’t think I got it all out.”

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