Before Missouri’s 82-77 win against Texas A&M, junior point guard Randy Pulley had only played five games with the Tigers and only averaged 13.8 minutes per game. That was long enough to impress Missouri coach Quin Snyder.
Pulley made his first start as a Tiger against the Aggies on Saturday. He made it count.
After all, Pulley’s biggest fan, his father, was watching.
“Just knowing his father’s there and hearing his father’s voice,” sophomore Jimmy McKinney said. “I’m pretty sure he heard him.”
In 35 minutes, Pulley had four points and four assists. He added a career-high four rebounds.
Pulley also fumbled the ball four times, the most in his career.
“He wasn’t perfect tonight, but he’s our most confident player with the ball,” Snyder said.
Pulley’s solid performances against Iowa and Iowa State sent a clear signal that he was ready, Snyder said. He had nine assists and only one turnover in those two games.
“He sees things in games,” Snyder said. “He adds a little extra in games, and that’s what I’ve seen in him, too, that maybe I didn’t see the first couple weeks of practice.”
With Pulley controlling the point, McKinney started as a shooting guard.
Although shooting guard is McKinney’s natural position, Snyder moved him to point guard last season to back up former Missouri player Ricky Clemons.
McKinney said he was glad to let Pulley step in.
“I could be more aggressive,” he said. “But I still consider myself a point guard. I’m also a guard so it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.
“He was getting the ball to guys at the right times or where they could be really successful and made sure we got our big boys involved. That was really a good thing for us.”
McKinney’s shooting instincts produced 12 points, but Snyder said McKinney’s point guard days are not over.
“We haven’t given up on Jimmy as a point guard,” Snyder said. “When he’s thinking too much, it makes him tentative.”
Snyder said he has confidence in McKinney’s ability to control plays, but Pulley is better adjusted to handle the pressure that role brings.
“He gets the ball up the court quicker and gets us in transition fast,” Snyder said. “He’s been solid on the ball defensively, too. I’d like for him to be more solid on the ball defensively.”
The Aggies targeted another aspect of Pulley’s game as they tried to cut the Tigers’ lead: his shooting.
In his first five games, Pulley shot 44 percent from the free-throw line. The Aggies turned to desperation fouling and knew Pulley’s record was the weakest from the foul line.
While McKinney scored the Tigers’ only field goal in the last five minutes, they shot 80 percent from the line in the second half.
Pulley hit 4-of-6 free throws and kept the Tigers’ lead intact.
“He made them pay,” McKinney said. “He knocked down two of them and made them pay. That was a big boost for us.”
REBOUND RUT: In their first nine games, the Tigers posted a Big 12 Conference-leading rebounding margin, dominating opponents by 10.9 rebounds per game.
The Tigers let their authority slip for the second-straight game Saturday. The Aggies outrebounded the Tigers 37-34. They also held the Tigers to only six offensive rebounds their fewest all season.
SCOUTING SEASON: With four senior stars leading the Tigers, the NBA is tracking their potential. NBA scouts from the Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics took notes on Saturday’s game.
Jim Clib, president of James Clibanoff Basketball Services, liked the Tigers’ promise.
“I’m definitely impressed with what I saw here,” Clib said.
Clib said seniors Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding will likely be NBA picks in June, but they might not be selected until the second round. He said Paulding’s lack of emotion and the muscle-definition Johnson lost shedding pounds could push them back in the draft.
He was most impressed with freshman Linas Kleiza but said Kleiza would be a better NBA player after a chance to develop during his sophomore season.