Gant makes long awaited debut in loss to Xavier
College Contributor Network
It was a long time coming; nine games to be exact, but on Saturday afternoon Jakeenan Gant finally made his debut for their Missouri Tigers during their 74-58 loss to Xavier.
"He came in and just kind of fit right in," Tigers head coach Kim Anderson said after the game. He was aggressive offensively but he wasn't selfish. He had shots; he took them, he made them. He made some plays."
Gant was unable to play during the Tigers first nine games due to an investigation regarding his eligibility, which centered on whether or not he was a recipient of improper benefits. News broke early Saturday morning that Gant had been cleared, allowing him to suit up in the black and gold for the first time this season.
"He's bringing scoring and rebounding and we really need that right now," Tigers sophomore forward Johnathan Williams III said. "He's just a great player."
Gant checked into the game with a little over nine minutes remaining in the first half to a loud ovation with the Tigers trailing by double-digits and provided an instant spark for the team, scoring seven points in five minutes including a baseline jumper on his first touch, and a long three a few minutes later. The Georgia native was the main force behind an 11-4 run by the Tigers, which cut the Musketeers lead to single digits and sent Missouri into the half only down 32-27.
"He gave us a big spark, we're happy to have him back," Missouri senior guard Keith Shamburger, said. "He's a big part of our team. He just works so hard and we're really going to need him."
Gant was the Tigers first commit in the 2014 class, pledging to the Tigers last August when Frank Haith was still coaching the team and was considered a consensus four-star prospect and top-60 nationally ranked player out of high school. Gant honored his commitment to the Tigers after Haith left for Tulsa and Anderson was hired and was even invited to the prestigious USA Basketball U-18 National Team's training camp.
"He's a good guy," Anderson said. "He's a great kid. I thought he might be a little nervous but he came in and took right off."
Gant returned about halfway through the second half with the Tigers down six and gave Xavier coach Chris Mack's squad all they could handle. The 6-foot-8 forward added his first college dunk on a one-handed jam a few minutes after checking in and added a steal, a rebound and a pair of blocks by the end of the game, finishing with 13 points in his first college game, good for second on the team behind Williams' 17 points.
Defensively, Gant struggled a bit, fouling quickly after getting in during the first half and also being a step behind the player he was guarding at times but overall Anderson was pleased with how the reigning Mr. Basketball in Georgia played on both sides of the ball.
He's athletic, he's going to make mistakes," Anderson said. But he's not going to be the only one. I thought he did a very fair job. We had him guarding some pretty big guys. The knowledge was good."
Alex Schiffer is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Missouri and hails from Westfield, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter: @TheSchiffMan