Jason Conley started his Missouri career in impressive fashion.
With 14:06 left in the first half of Missouri’s 106-98 win against UNC-Greensboro, fans welcomed Conley’s first appearance as a Tiger with a standing ovation. Although he received the warm greeting before he had touched the court, Conley didn’t disappoint the 11,552 in attendance Sunday afternoon at Hearnes Center.
In 21 minutes, Conley, a 6-foot-5 junior, scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds for the No. 10 Tigers.
As a freshman at VMI in 2001-02, Conley led the nation in scoring with 29.3 points per game. His transfer to Missouri required him to sit out a year, and he was not eligible to play until Sunday.
“It feels great, and I just can’t wait until we keep going on,” Conley said.
Despite a sluggish start, Conley found his way in the second half. With 16:38 left, Conley returned to the game and promptly scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He converted a 3-point play when he was fouled on a put back of a Rickey Paulding miss to stretch the Tigers’ lead to 64-57. On the next possession, he finished an alley-oop from Paulding.
Point guard Randy Pulley, academically ineligible for the Tigers’ first four games, also made his debut against the Spartans. Like Conley, Pulley struggled a bit in his first half stint, but in nine minutes in the second half, Pulley, who transferred from Barton (Kan.) County Community College, pushed the pace and propelled an offensive spurt.
With Pulley running the team for more than five minutes in the second half, the Tigers scored 19 points and had points on eight straight possessions.
“In the first half, I couldn’t get my rhythm,” Pulley said. “When I went in the second half, I knew we had to get a run going. So, my rhythm got there, I pushed the ball, and we got some easy baskets. I got familiar on the court.”
Pulley’s first basket, with 15:46 left, started the burst. He took a pass from freshman Thomas Gardner at the top of the key, drove to his left and finished in traffic.
Pulley finished with five points and two assists in 11 minutes. His only statistical blemish, one turnover, came in the first half.
“I told Randy from day one he needs to be the best on-ball defender for us to have success, and I think that’s something he really committed to,” Tigers coach Quin Snyder said. “I’ve also asked him to really push the ball up the floor, and I thought he looked good pushing tempo.”
Conley’s first basket was a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:17 left in the first half. It came after a Paulding miss. Sophomore center Kevin Young kept the play alive with an offensive rebound. Young kicked it out to sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney, who swung it to Conley. The shot gave MU a 45-35 lead.
Spartans coach Fran McCaffery, who coached against Conley in the Southern Conference, said Conley’s scoring numbers at VMI hide his all-around ability.
“He can pass the ball,” McCaffery said. “He can defend, and the feat that nobody talks about is his rebounding. He’s a phenomenal rebounder.”
Four of Conley’s six rebounds were offensive.
Conley scored his first 2-point basket off a pass from senior forward Travon Bryant, who had posted up. Conley cut to the basket, took the pass and laid it in to give the Tigers a 50-40 lead. He had a rebound, an assist and a turnover in nine minutes in the first half.
Conley, who played in 10 games with VMI in 2002, said the game has been a long time in coming.
“I got emotional when I saw my jersey,” Conley said. “I was real close (to crying). I got teary-eyed and went to myself and that was it. I had to bounce back. I came in here, I saw it, and I still can’t believe it. But it’s here. I’m excited, and my teammates are on my side. I just want to keep going with it.”