AMES, IOWA — A timely substitution can swing momentum. Bringing a fresh player into the lineup can help overcome an imposing deficit.
It can also work the other way, replacing a cohesive group with an inconsistent one.
Both happened to Missouri’s at Iowa State on Wednesday. A personnel overhaul early in the second half inspired the Tigers, while another several minutes later eventually killed a rally and gave the Cyclones a 70-65 win.
With the Tigers trailing 49-40, coach Quin Snyder brought in the second team after a television timeout. They responded immediately, playing their most inspired basketball of the game on a 10-4 run that swing the momentum Missouri’s way.
Then it was time for the top players to return. Their strong play continued for five more minutes, but a late shooting drought ended Snyder’s first chance for a victory at Hilton Coliseum.
Snyder substituted Randy Pulley, Thomas Gardner, Jason Conley, Linas Kleiza and Kevin Young for Jimmy McKinney, Josh Kroenke, Rickey Paulding, Travon Bryant and Arthur Johnson with 15:01 to play. The starters became cheerleaders, led by an emphatic Paulding, waving a towel over his head and yelling encouragement to the reserves.
The backups improved on the defensive end, forcing the Cyclones into shots from the outside. Two off-balance attempts by Iowa State senior Jake Sullivan were off-target, and Curtis Stinson, the Cyclones’ leading scorer with 22, was temporarily held in check.
Gardner started the rally with a 3-pointer from right wing, and Kleiza made two free throws after a jumper from Iowa State’s Jared Homan. A Kleiza layup followed, forcing Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan to take a timeout.
A Gardner 3-pointer, this time from the left wing, cut the lead to 53-50.
Snyder chose to bring the starters back into the game after a television timeout at 11:20.
“The platoon had got us going,” Snyder said. “The reason they got us going is because we were playing so hard.”
Snyder said he felt the reserves were winded and brought in all five starters in hopes of continuing the run. After the game, that perception was met with mixed reviews; Gardner said he needed a break but Pulley said he was still fresh.
The switch paid off for a while; the starters responded to the benching by going on a 13-3 run of their own. Paulding scored three consecutive baskets in the run, and Gardner returned to score a layup in transition and another 3-pointer from the left wing, giving Missouri a 63-56 lead, its largest of the game, with 5:47 to play.
Kroenke said the mass substitutions fired up the starters.
“It’s just like practice,” he said. “It picked our intensity up. Our defense really picked up and I wasn’t surprised they did so well.”
Gardner’s 3-pointer was Missouri’s last field goal of the game. Snyder devoted most of the final minutes to his more experienced players, who responded with a 0-for-5 shooting effort and three turnovers. All five attempts were 3-pointers; unable to perform defensively and struggling against a raucous crowd, the Tigers forced ill-advised shots and made rudimentary ballhandling mistakes.
Gardner, Missouri’s most consistent offensive threat of the game, stayed on the bench until the final seconds. Despite the best performance of his short Missouri career, Gardner said he was not disappointed about being held out of play when the game was on the line.
“Our team is totally confident in me and I’m totally confident in my team,” he said. “And we’re totally confident in Coach Q. I was just trying to do what I could for the team.”
That confidence was rewarded until the final 5:47, when fatigue led to frustration and a potential strong Big 12 Conference opener slipped away.
“It’s bad,” Pulley said. “When you have a lead, you have to finish out the game. We have to work on that.”