When it comes to 3-point shooting, Missouri won’t let itself get discouraged easily.
The Tigers displayed their 3-point resolve in their 62-53 victory against Kansas State on Saturday at Hearnes Center.
“This team feels, even though we shot badly in the first half, that doesn’t mean we’re going into the second half like ‘Hey, let’s not shoot,’” junior guard Jason Conley said. “We have such good shooters that we’re not going to let that slow us down.”
The Tigers’ determination became apparent in the second half after they misfired badly from behind the 3-point line in the first, making 1-of-11. They hit 6-of-11 in the second half, several of which keyed crucial runs. Kansas State coach Jim Wooldridge said timely 3-pointers helped propel the Tigers (9-8, 4-3 Big 12 Conference) to the victory.
“In the first half, we settled for jump shots,” senior guard Josh Kroenke said. “In the second half, we were patient, got the ball inside and then it went outside, and whenever you do that, the shots come a lot easier because you’ve already broken down the defense.”
Kroenke said it is important for the ball to go to the post in a possession even if an early shot is available. Once the ball goes through the post, that same shot should be more open. Kroenke made his only attempt.
“With (Arthur Johnson), Travon (Bryant), Kevin (Young) and Linas (Kleiza) inside, this team is very effective when it goes through the post,” Kroenke said. “Most of our shots have come when we play through the post, and we’re putting pressure on the defense that way.
“When you play the ball through the post, the defense has a tendency to break down and you get open looks.”
After the Wildcats (9-8, 1-5) tied the score at 34 with 13:19 left, Kroenke hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, and on the next possession Conley made a 3-pointer from the left baseline. The Wildcats called a timeout but never recovered from the six-point burst.
Conley’s 3-pointer was his first since the Tigers’ 106-98 win against UNC-Greensboro on Dec. 21. Conley made 1-of-3 on Saturday.
It hasn’t been easy for the Tigers, though. Facing zone defenses in almost every game, the Tigers, at times, have struggled to move the ball inside, and as a result, 3-point shooting has become a premium.
Although they have had plenty of 3-point opportunities, the Tigers haven’t made the most of them. The Tigers, who entered the game with the third-most attempts in the Big 12, 310, average 33 percent from 3-point range. Despite the low percentage, the Tigers remain confident with their long-range shooting.
The Tigers entered the game ranked seventh in Big 12 3-point field goal percentage.
Senior guard Rickey Paulding had problems shooting 3-pointers against the Wildcats. He missed his first seven attempts before making one from the left wing with 4:49 left.
“I think early in the game I was (settling for 3-pointers),” Paulding said. “In the second half, they went to a zone and packed it in. I feel like we got the ball inside, and my shot was there. I don’t think I’m doing anything different.”
Although he has made 30 percent of his 3-point attempts, Paulding said he has confidence in his shot when he’s open. Paulding also said, though, he wants to make a conscious effort to drive the ball to the basket early.
Freshman Thomas Gardner, who scored a team-high 16 points, had the best shooting day from behind the 3-point line. He made 3-of-6. Gardner’s 3-pointer with 5:56 left gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the day, 49-37.
“We took the same amount of 3-point shots in the second half as we did in the first, but they were better shots because the ball was moving inside out,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “We weren’t just settling for jumpers. We were getting shots off of actions or throwing it inside.”