AMES, Iowa – Thomas Gardner nearly saved the Missouri men’s basketball team Wednesday night.
Athough the Tigers lost to Iowa State 70-65 at Hilton Coliseum, it could have been much worse without Gardner’s play. Gardner scored a team-high 17 points in 13 minutes starting in place of senior guard Josh Kroenke for the second straight game.
“Without him, it wouldn’t have been close,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “That’s just a credit to all the hard work he’s been putting in at practice.”
Gardner, who is a freshman from Portland, Ore., was initially inserted to the starting lineup for his energy and defense but found his shooting touch early. Gardner scored the Tigers’ first six points of the game.
After breaking a full-court press, Gardner took a pass on the left baseline, drove to the basket and finished with a thunderous, two-handed dunk over Iowa State (8-2, 1-0) center Jackson Vroman, who also fouled him. Gardner completed the 3-point play.
Two possessions later, Gardner made a 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 6-4 lead.
“In the beginning of the season, I was feeling like I was getting a lot minutes but I really wasn’t producing,” Gardner said. “I couldn’t really complain about playing time, and now I need to step up and play my game.”
Gardner also keyed a run which helped the Tigers (5-5, 0-1 Big 12) trim the Iowa State lead. With the Tigers trailing 49-40, Gardner hit a 3-pointer with 14:35 left. Less than 3 minutes later, Gardner made another 3-pointer to bring the Tigers within 53-50, which was the closest they had been since midway through the first half.
After the Tigers regained the lead, Gardner scored on consecutive possessions to build a 63-58 advantage. The first basket was a fast-break layup after a Curtis Stinson miss. Gardner also made a 3-pointer from the left wing with 5:47 left.
The 3-pointer, though, was the Tigers’ final field goal of the night, and despite his personal success, Gardner couldn’t hide his disappointment with the loss.
“I’m always going to be happy about my performance, but the only score that mattered was the score at the end of the game,” Gardner said. “I was just trying to do what I could do, bringing energy to defense and offense, and hopefully, help my team win the game.”
Gardner only had one miss from the field and he also grabbed a rebound.
“He’s playing hard,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder. “He’s battling. It’s not about his jump shot, it’s about getting after it.”
ABSENT FROM FOUL LINE: Despite averaging 24.1 free throw attempts, the Tigers attempted only nine against Iowa State, making seven.
“That’s life on the road in the Big 12,” Snyder said. “You’re not always going to get what you want.”
In their 76-56 victory against Iowa on Saturday, the Tigers set season highs in free throw attempts, 37, and makes, 27.
Iowa State held a slight advantage making 11-of-14. The game included only 27 fouls, 15 on the Tigers and 12 on Iowa State.
LONG DISTANCE SHOTS DON’T DROP: When Iowa State built a first half lead, which reached 10 with 3:31 left, it was, in large part, thanks to excellent 3-point shooting. As the Tigers tried to get back in the game, they were not as fortunate.
The Tigers made 8-of-25 3-pointers in the game, while Iowa State hit on 5-of-6 attempts in the first half.
“Iowa Sate is pretty big inside with Vroman and (Jared) Homan, and they made it hard to get open for 3-pointers,” junior guard Randy Pulley said.
Senior guard Rickey Paulding made 1-of-7 3-pointers, many of which were contested. The Cyclones extended their 2-3 zone defense to or beyond the 3-point line for most of the game.
REBOUNDING DOMINANCE ENDS: For the first time all season, the Tigers were outrebounded. The Cyclones grabbed 33 rebounds to the Tigers’ 32.
Homan had a game-high nine rebounds, four of which were offensive. Freshman Linas Kleiza led the Tigers with six.
The Tigers entered the game second-best in the Big 12 Conference with a plus-12.2 rebounding average.
Although it snapped the Tigers’ nine-game streak of outrebounding teams, Iowa State has outrebounded its opponents in five straight games. The Cyclones entered the game with a plus-5.9 rebounding margin, which was sixth in the Big 12.