If "absence makes the heart grow fonder," No. 12 Kansas State and Missouri will be very fond of each other. The former conference rivals have met a total of 236 times, with the Wildcats holding the all-time edge 120-116. But they haven't played since 2015. Missouri left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference following the 2012 season.
They'll face off in the Paradise Jam tournament Monday evening in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Kansas State (4-0) used another stellar defensive effort to defeat Penn 64-48 in the second semifinal. Missouri (3-1) defeated Oregon State 69-63 in the first semifinal.
"We didn't go at them early, which put us in a bind," Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said following the game against Penn. "We got good effort from a lot of guys. Last night it was Cartier (Diarra). Tonight it was Kam (Stokes). That's the good thing about our team. We fight through (adversity) and find a way to win."
Missouri is coached by one of Weber's former players. Cuonzo Martin played at Purdue, when Weber was one of Gene Keady's assistants.
"I'm so proud of Cuonzo," Weber said. "He's a really good coach and he brings toughness. When he came to Purdue his knee was so messed up that he'd never play over 15 minutes per game. In his senior year, he played 38 or 39 minutes, and he got mad at us when we'd take him out.
"It was a physical game tonight, and it's going to be a physical game tomorrow."
Kansas State has shined on defense so far this year. Against Penn, which came into Sunday's game averaging 83 points per game, the Wildcats held them to just 30.6 percent from the field, including 20 percent from 3-point range.
Penn's A.J. Brodeur was held to just six points on 1-of-9 shooting, 10 points below his season average. The Wildcats held Eastern Kentucky's Nick Mayo to 11 points, 17 below his season average in their first game.
"That's two nights in a row," Weber said of his team's defensive effort on the opponent's best player. "Mak (Makol Mawien) did a great job with four blocks and eight rebounds. He did a lot of things for us."
K-State is led in scoring by Barry Brown with 14.8 points per game, followed closely by Dean Wade with 14.5 and Xavier Sneed with 13.0. Wade also leads the Wildcats with 9.3 rebounds per game, followed by reserve forward Austin Trice with 7.3. K-State is averaging just over 20 percent shooting from 3-point range, but they're holding the opposition to just 35 percent shooting from the field.
Mizzou is led by Mark Smith with 11.8 points per game, followed by Kevin Puryear with 11.5, Jordan Geist with 10.0 and Jeremiah Tilman with 9.8.
Unable to practice because of a back injury, Geist scored 21 points against Oregon State, 18 of which came in the second half. Puryear added 17 points and seven rebounds.
"(Geist) might say his back hurts all the time, so he doesn't have to practice," joked Martin after the game.
Oregon State tied the game at 44 with 12:13 left, but Missouri took off from there. Free throws from Puryear, Geist and Xavier Pinson helped Missouri build a 54-48 lead as Oregon State would go scoreless for over four minutes. Missouri shot 79 percent from the free throw for the game, with Geist and Puryear going a combined 18-for-21 from the charity stripe.
"Especially late in the game, we want the ball in Kevin's hands," Martin said. "He can make free throws. We have to find ways to get him the ball."