MEMPHIS, Tenn. –- Surprisingly, Missouri coach Quin Snyder liked his team’s first-half performance in the loss at Memphis on Saturday.
Snyder would have liked the half even more had his team hit some shots. No. 11 Missouri handled the ball well, defended well and rebounded well but trailed 35-26 at halftime in a 61-59 loss.
“In the first half, we had a ton of opportunities in the paint and couldn’t convert,” Snyder said. “Sometimes when you don’t see the ball go in, you can get discouraged defensively, but we stayed together.”
While it held Memphis to 42 percent shooting, MU hit 9-of 37 shots (24.3 percent) in the half. Senior center Arthur Johnson led the team with eight points in the first half, but they did not come to him easily. Johnson made 3-of-11 shots and made 2-of-4 free throws.
Johnson was not the only one to struggle, though. Junior forward Jason Conley missed all five of his shots. Senior forward Rickey Paulding made 2-of-7. Sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney was 1-of-5.
“Our half-court execution needs to get better,” Snyder said. “Even when we’re doing the right things, throwing it in, playing it back out, we’re just a half a step away from having the right spacing to get an open look as opposed to a contested look.”
At several points during the half, Missouri had lengthy field-goal droughts. With Memphis leading 17-12, the Tigers failed to score a field goal in the next 5:18. In that time, Memphis increased its lead to 29-16. Immediately after that drought ended, Missouri did not score for another 4:07.
In addition, Missouri played the first 2:19 before scoring its first field goal.
“We’re still learning to play with each other,” Paulding said. “We played pretty good defense, and that’s all we can really ask for.”
Falling behind early has become a troubling trend, for Missouri has trailed big in the first half three other times.
Missouri allowed Coppin State to take a halftime lead on the strength of a 14-0 run late in the half Dec. 2. Indiana, thanks to 54 percent shooting, held a 39-26 lead at halftime Dec. 6, and Tuesday, Illinois, which held a 21-point first-half lead, raced away from Missouri to lead 42-28 at halftime.
“Shots weren’t falling, but we played good (defense),” Johnson said.
“That’s how we were able to stay in the game. We know we’re getting better. Everything takes time.”
This is the fourth time this season Missouri has shot lower than 40 percent in the first half.
STRONG REBOUNDING: After outrebounding Memphis 49-35, Missouri has grabbed more rebounds than all of its opponents.
Johnson, who led the team with 12 rebounds, did the majority of his damage on offense with nine, seven in the first. Missouri finished with one more offensive rebound, 21, than Memphis had defensive rebounds.
“Every game we’re trying to rebound the ball like that,” Johnson said. “It just happened that a lot of them came on the offensive end (Saturday).”
Senior forward Travon Bryant also had 10 rebounds.
“We really wanted to rebound,” Paulding said.
“We felt this was a team we could rebound against. That just shows how we continue to get better.”
Paulding, who had nine rebounds, four offensive, said that the perimeter players did a better job helping the big men with loose balls, something Missouri struggled with earlier in the season.
Missouri entered with the second-best rebounding margin the Big 12 Conference at plus-12.8 per game. The 49 rebounds is a season high.
HAMSTRING HAMPERS YOUNG: Sophomore center Kevin Young played only three minutes because of a strained right hamstring, which he suffered against Illinois on Tuesday.
Young said his leg has not recovered completely, but he should be 100 percent in three or four days. He had one rebound and one foul.
Against Illinois, Young played two minutes in the first half but did not play in the second.