Finding a consistent point guard has been a focus of the Missouri coaching staff early this season. Lacking a steady performer there, the offense had been inconsistent and often relied on one player to take control of the game.
The Tigers are beginning to find what they had been missing: Jimmy McKinney and Randy Pulley combined for six assists and no turnovers in Missouri’s 76-56 win against Iowa on Saturday.
The pair’s patience with the ball finally showed the potential of the Missouri offense. Pulley consistently worked the ball into the post in the second half, looking for the best shot. The ball often came back out to the guards, who sent it down low again for the easy basket.
Patience has been important in the offense’s development, Pulley said.
“We want to get the best shot every possession,” he said. “I guess we’re just coming together. We’ve been working on it a lot and practicing it hard.”
Saturday’s game may have been Pulley’s best since becoming eligible to play for Missouri on Dec. 21. He did not make a filed goal, scoring his three points at the free throw line. But he and McKinney shut down the Hawkeyes on defense, limiting them to 2-of-11 on 3-point attempts, a major flaw in the Missouri defense during its recent three-game losing streak.
“It starts on the defensive end,” McKinney said. “If we start strong on the defensive end, the offense will be there.
Pulley and McKinney were on the floor together during a second-half run that secured the win. Pulley’s entrance to the lineup with 16:50 left coincided with a 13-2 Missouri run that put the Tigers ahead 54-35. Much of the offense came from the interior. Freshman forward Linas Kleiza scored seven of his team-high 18 points in the run but three Pulley assists keyed the rally.
Both players seemed pleased with their contributions after the game, and McKinney said he was expecting the offense to run so successfully all season.
“We’ve been looking for this since day one,” McKinney said. “Me and Randy, we play real well together. We got the team involved.”
The Tigers have also begun to take better care of the ball. While still ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 Conference in turnover margin (at -4.33 per game), they forced 15 turnovers to their eight against Iowa. The improvement is slow, but coach Quin Snyder said it has stemmed from the players growing more comfortable with each other.
“It’s not selfishness; it’s a lack of continuity and knowing each other and trusting each other,” he said. “That is what we’ve been looking for. You don’t get a sense of how you can play until you have your whole team.”
THE STREAK ENDS: The Tigers’ win ended their three-game losing streak, the fourth such streak under Snyder. Missouri has been effective at ending such slides; no team has lost four games in a row since Snyder arrived in 1999.
The Tigers last lost four consecutive games early in the 1997-98 season. Three of those losses came against ranked teams, including No. 3 Duke and No. 8 Kentucky in the preseason Maui Invitational. Missouri finished 17-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT that season.
ALFORD VS. SNYDER: Snyder and Iowa coach Steve Alford both had successful collegiate careers before entering the coaching ranks. Snyder played for Duke from 1986-89 and went to three Final Fours. Alford starred at Indiana from 1984-87, leading the Hoosiers to a national championship in his senior season.
They met only once on the court, in the third round of the 1987 NCAA Tournament. Alford’s Hoosiers won 88-82, but Snyder holds a 4-2 advantage in their meetings as coaches after Saturday’s win.
FREE THROW FOLLIES: Iowa made only 18-of-31 free throws, belying a problem that has plagued the Hawkeyes all season. They entered the contest making 63 percent of their foul shots, good for last in the Big 10. Saturday’s 58 percent effort did not improve their average.
Alford said his team’s struggles from the line carried over to the field, where the Hawkeyes shot 36 percent.
“You get to the line 30-plus times, you have to feel good about what you’re doing,” Alford said. “But to come away with only 18 points, that really affects your offense. When you consistently get to the line and consistently miss foul shots, there’s probably nothing more detrimental, other than turnovers, to the offense than that.”