There was an added sense of purpose to Missouri’s game against Arkansas.
It was evident on the court, as the Tigers’ stagnant offensive performances against South Carolina and Texas A&M were left outside of Mizzou Arena.
MU was crisp and regained whatever toughness was lost on the road in its 83-79 overtime victory over the Razorbacks.
Off the court, it all made sense. It was the fifth annual Rally For Rhyan game, Missouri’s annual home contest where donations to pediatric cancer research are in the forefront.
The now-bookmarked tradition started in 2016 when then-5-year-old Rhyan Loos was diagnosed with stage-four Neuroblastoma, a form of cancer most commonly found in children ages 5 or younger.
Loos has been in remission for more than three years and the Tigers are 5-0 in her honorary game.
Before Saturday, the Rally For Rhyan Fund raised more than $500,000 for pediatric cancer research. MU announced after the final whistle that more than $80,000 was raised from Saturday’s contest.
Rhyan Loos is the daughter of Missouri assistant athletic director and former men’s basketball assistant coach Brad Loos.
Brad Loos coached at Missouri for three years and also spent 12 seasons under former Tigers head coach Kim Anderson at Central Missouri.
“When we started this ... we'd hoped to raise $10,000. That was our goal, and we thought that'd be great,” Brad Loos said. “To have raised over $500,000, never in our wildest dreams... and I wish we could take the credit for it. I'd love to say it was all me and my wife, but really it's the people of this community, it's the people of this state, it’s the Mizzou family that really kind of made this what it is.”
MU senior Reed Nikko wore Rhyan Loos’ name on the back of his warmups before tallying his first-career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Brad Loos was Nikko’s primary recruiter when he chose to play for Missouri. Nikko and Mitchell Smith are the only two players still on the Tigers’ roster from when Loos was still on the bench.
“That’s my guy,” Mitchell Smith said of Loos. “I’m happy to get this win for him, I’m happy for his daughter and all the money that they raised. It was just a great day.”
Again this year, Brad Loos gave a halftime speech about Rhyan’s journey with his wife Jennifer and all three of their children, Rhyan, Brady and Charli, standing right beside him. The 11,439 in attendance were on their feet for every word Loos spoke.
“We made it very clear to everyone that we don't lose this game,” Nikko said. “This is a game that means a lot more than just basketball ... I think there's a heightened sense of focus. I think it's well understood when you're going into a game like this, when basketball is not the most important thing and you getting a chance to play for something that's way bigger than you, way more important than a stat line or any of that, it’s just a special game.”
While a heavy majority of the current Tigers roster or staff wasn’t in Columbia when the tradition started, they became quickly acquainted with the Rally For Rhyan Game.
Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin is a cancer survivor in his own right, as he’s been in remission for more than 20 years from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Martin said he talks to Brad Loos frequently, but the conversation typically isn’t about life in remission.
“I've always been a guy, I don't know why, it's always been hard for me to even talk about it, just even say the word. I don't know why, but you know it's real,” Martin said of surviving cancer. “And I think you try to block that out of your mind as much as possible because I mean I can look in the mirror and see scars to know it exists. But not that I'm running from it, afraid of it, but I try to minimize that conversation as much as possible.”
Rhyan Loos hasn’t sat back and taken things easy since becoming cancer-free. She’s fought for others who have been through similar hardships. She might take that role in stride, as a smile never left her face when walking onto the Mizzou Arena court.
While the on-court victory was much needed for Missouri, as it improved to 11-12 overall and 3-7 in the Southeastern Conference by defeating Arkansas, the off-court ones on Saturday took center stage.
The Tigers hadn’t gotten the most out of conference action thus far, but Saturday with much more up for grabs, they extended their undefeated streak in the Rally For Rhyan game.
“To say I'm proud of Rhyan is a huge understatement. She's a miracle, to say the least,” Brad Loos said. “And I'm biased because she's my daughter, but I couldn't be prouder of her. She's overcome a ton of adversity and now she's just a regular little 9-year-old girl, which I think is pretty cool and she gets to live that life. Proud doesn't begin to explain how I feel about her.
“... She is a 9-year-old going on 19. I do think that going through the experiences that she's been through, it's matured her. And so I think she's a little more mature than most-9-year-olds. But she's just your typical little girl right now. She loves going to dance classes. She loves going to school, having sleepovers, all those little things that I think we took for granted prior to all of this, we definitely don't take it for granted now.”