The slashing, explosive Rickey Paulding that Missouri fans have grown accustomed to has been conspicuously absent in the past two games.
After scoring 21 points in the season opener Nov. 29 against Oakland, Paulding’s output has dropped to seven and eight points in the past two games. His scoring has dropped to 12 points per game from last season’s 17.4, and he committed as many turnovers (seven) as he scored points against Coppin State on Tuesday.
So what’s happened to Paulding?
“He’s (still) the Rickey of old; he just hasn’t made some shots,” coach Quin Snyder said. “Rickey has had bad games before in his life; what he has done right now is completely throw himself completely into us. As long as he’s there, he’ll be fine. I’m not worried about him.”
Snyder’s affirmation aside, Paulding struggled offensively against Indiana on Saturday, going 4-of-15 from the field in 39 minutes. He found other ways to contribute, though, often driving to the basket to create opportunities for his teammates in the second half. He also held Bracey Wright, Indiana’s high-scoring guard, to 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“He went to the hole in the second half like a man possessed,” Snyder said. “And he did a great job defensively against Bracey Wright.”
A left ankle sprain has slowed Paulding offensively. Paulding often looks hesitant to drive and shoot, passing off to a teammate instead of taking the shot he created by penetrating. His vertical leap has also looked flat recently.
Forward Travon Bryant has produced while Paulding has struggled, scoring 16 points in each of the past two games, a significant improvement from his 8.9 points per game last season. Bryant said Snyder has encouraged all of the Tigers to contribute.
“Coach said at the half (against Indiana), ‘Players make plays,’” Bryant said. “I just wanted to go out there and make some plays. We end up doing that and the rest is history.”
Despite his team’s late 14-point deficit, Bryant said he wanted to take over the game when center Arthur Johnson fouled out. That is exactly what he did, scoring four points and adding an offensive rebound, blocked shot and steal in the final 4:23.
Even with Johnson on the bench, the come-from-behind victory didn’t surprise Bryant.
“It’s stepping up that leadership and being aggressive,” he said. “We stayed together and didn’t get off track of our game plan. We just stayed back and battled, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Paulding, who contributed a key layup during Missouri’s closing 15-0 run, said the team’s composure in the final minutes impressed him.
“You can’t ask for much more,” Paulding said. “Those guys have showed tremendous character and really stepped up when A.J. went out.”
The depth of the Missouri bench is a major bonus. If one player has a rough shooting night, a handful of others can step up to fill the void. Paulding said the team’s balance will be important as the Tigers approach the teeth of their nonconference schedule.
“It’s an all-around team effort,” Paulding said. “We just have to watch tape, get better and prepare for Gonzaga (on Saturday).”