LAWRENCE, Kan. – Missouri appeared to have the perfect plan and had it working.
Pound the ball to Arthur Johnson and Travon Bryant, get the big men of No. 20 Kansas in foul trouble and hold down forward Wayne Simien.
It nearly worked, but Simien and the Jayhawks prevented, then turned back, the Tigers’ game plan and held on for a 65-56 win Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in a Big 12 Conference game.
“You have to give them credit; they took advantage of our mistakes, got to our plays,” Bryant said. “They got the crowd back in it.”
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said he thought his team executed well throughout the game, but it could not convert late.
Simien, who finished with a game-high 18 points, scored 16 in the second half. He helped continue the Tigers’ pattern of alternating winning a game with losing a game. The streak started with a 71-67 loss to Belmont on Dec. 30.
An alley-oop from Aaron Miles to Simien with 3:27 left gave the Jayhawks a 61-54 lead. Johnson made a running hook shot on the next possession, but the Tigers (9-9, 4-4 Big 12) did not score another field goal.
“Kansas made some plays on the offensive end,” Snyder said. “I thought we had a few mental breakdowns that gave them some emotional buckets whether it be a couple dunks. That gave them a lift.
“I thought we were in position late in the second half to win the game, even felt like there was a point that we were in control of the game.”
The Tigers opened the second half with an offensive flurry, scoring on six of their first seven possessions. Johnson had four points in the stretch, in which the Tigers tied the score at 40.
Kansas freshman J.R. Giddens responded in the stretch and continued to shoot as well as he had in the first half. He made his third 3-pointer of the game with a hand in his face.
More strong play allowed the Tigers to build a 42-40 lead with 14:15 left, but the Jayhawks answered with an 8-0 run. Miles capped the run with a drive and layup from the left wing to give the Jayhawks a 48-42 lead with 10:07 left. Missouri did not lead again.
“I thought we lost we lost focus during that stretch, and that’s all it takes, a three or four-minute stretch,” Snyder said. “They got control of the game, went up four or five, and that was pretty much the margin.”
Miles, the catalyst of the Jayhawks’ offense, had eight assists.
During the decisive run, the Jayhawks (14-4, 6-1), who have won 22 straight conference home games, switched from man-to-man defense to a zone, and it stifled the Tigers’ attempts to get the ball inside. While playing against the zone, the Tigers struggled to score.
Twice the Tigers drew closer when senior guard Rickey Paulding and sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney penetrated and scored. McKinney’s basket, with 5:55 left, cut the Jayhawks’ lead to 53-52.
Snyder dropped to 3-7 against Kansas. Kansas coach Bill Self maintained his perfect record in his four games against the Tigers.
Although the Jayhawks took a 29-27 halftime lead, the Tigers could have held a similar advantage. Johnson dominated the inside getting excellent position against Kansas freshman David Padgett. He finished the half with a game-high nine points but missed several layups.
“It’s really frustrating,” Missouri guard Josh Kroenke said. “We wanted to come out and make a statement against a quality opponent (Monday) on the road in a very, very tough place to play. We played hard, but some shots didn’t fall that we normally make … It just hurts.”
Johnson wasn’t the only Tiger to have his way inside, for they scored 13 second-chance points in the first half. They collected nine offensive rebounds and outscored the Jayhawks 22-14 in the lane.
The Jayhawks countered the Tigers inside play with 3-point shooting. Despite entering the game as the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12, the Jayhawks made 4-of-10 attempts. Giddens made 2-of-4.
The Jayhawks had made 30 percent of their 3-pointers before the game. They finished 5-of-14.
On the other side, the Tigers, who struggled from behind the 3-point line against Kansas State, struggled against the Jayhawks as well. The Tigers made 3-of-18 attempts.
After a Keith Langford layup, the Jayhawks had their biggest lead of the half at 25-20, but the Tigers called a timeout to settle the momentum. It worked as the Tigers cut the deficit to 25-24 on a Paulding put back and a McKinney put back.
The first half had 11 lead changes and four ties.