Before the first game, even before the first practice, Missouri guard Rickey Paulding was swamped with praise.
His promise earned him preseason All-American honors. His explosive dunks sparked discussion of greatness, even if he would be the last to say it.
While the Tigers pulled out a 70-61 win against Coppin State on Tuesday, Paulding’s seven turnovers against the Eagles set a career high he doesn’t hope to outdo.
It marked the most turnovers for Paulding since his freshman year. Paulding mishandled the ball six times in the Tigers’ 74-62 loss to Iowa State on Feb. 11, 2001. At least in that game, Paulding had his rookie status and 15 points to compensate for his fumbles.
On Tuesday, Paulding was in uncharacteristic form. Despite playing 38 minutes, he hit only 3-of-7 field goals.
Paulding only human
After a 21-point effort against Oakland on Saturday, Paulding’s inconsistency made one thing clear: He is only human. Snyder said Paulding isn’t overrated; he was trying to do too much.
The Eagles’ zone thwarted most chances for the Tigers’ offense to gain momentum and get the ball to center Arthur Johnson. In an effort to spark his team’s turnaround, Paulding forced passes that Eagles’ defenders quickly cutoff.
“As a guard, when you want to get it to someone and you’re not getting to them, you try a little harder to get it to them,” Snyder said. “Maybe you throw it to him when he’s not open, and when we started just being fundamentally sound – ball faking, positioning our passes, attacking the gap with the dribble instead of looking frozen – AJ got more touches.”
Once Johnson’s scoring opportunities started rolling in, he added 14 points to Travon Bryant’s game-high of 16.
Practice makes perfect
Even though Paulding didn’t look like an All-American on Tuesday, Snyder said the best remedy for sloppy hands is more games.
The Tigers didn’t look like the No. 4 team in the country either.
In their two games, the Tigers went into halftime with 14 turnovers. After committing 20 in their first game, a 90-85 win against Oakland, the Tigers’ bobbled the ball 19 times against the Eagles.
“We’re not there,” Snyder said. “We’re certainly not the number whatever team we are. You can quit looking at the ratings and start looking at us.
“Our guys are in there going, ‘Well why didn’t I make that play? Why couldn’t I deliver that ball? Why did I miss that chip-in?’ Early in the year, I think you have an expectation about how things are going to go, and you begin to play. We haven’t played.”
Tuesday’s win offered another reality check for Missouri: Experience doesn’t promise success. Even though the Tigers’ boast four senior starters, Snyder said they have plenty left to learn before they can lead the team’s newcomers.
Group cohesiveness is most important
“Four seniors, that doesn’t guarantee you maturity as a group,” Snyder said. “They have to demand that more of each other.
“It’s kind of growing up. It happens over the course of a season. We’ve got to grow up quicker right now.”
Paulding knows the Tigers’ ranking was in jeopardy, but he said the team’s 2-0 start is enough for him. The Tigers’ season might depend on how soon they can fix passing miscues, but the rankings won’t compensate for 19-turnover games.
Until the Tigers meet Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday, Paulding’s main concern is how the Tigers mend their mistakes in practice.
“(The rankings) are out there, but we can’t control what people say what people think about us,” Paulding said. “On paper the teams don’t really match up with us, but what’s important is the victory.”