LAWRENCE, Kan. — Coaches love to emphasize how important it is to get the ball inside. Moving the ball to the big men often leads to high-percentage shots, open looks at 3-pointers and foul trouble for the opponent.
Each team followed that formula in one half of Missouri’s 65-56 loss at No. 20 Kansas on Monday night. Missouri’s big men dominated the first half, allowing the Jayhawks to hold a two-point lead at halftime.
Kansas forward Wayne Simien controlled the second half, scoring 16 of his game-high 18 points in the final 20 minutes and leading Kansas to its fifth consecutive home win against the Tigers.
Missouri senior forward Travon Bryant and center Arthur Johnson dominated the first half, combining for 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. Johnson led all scorers with nine points at the half, but could have reached double figures had he not missed several lay-ups.
Bryant pulled down seven rebounds (three offensively) and knocked away five Kansas shots. Despite a 1-of-4 mark from the free-throw line, it was likely his best half of the season.
The Tigers found it more difficult to get the ball inside in the second half, settling for 12 3-pointers and making three. They finished 3-of-18 from outside and were unable to hit the shots they needed to mount a rally.
Senior guard Josh Kroenke said Kansas’ switch to a 2-3 zone made it difficult to get the ball inside in the second half.
“They were jumping down and doubling A.J. and Travon on the block,” Kroenke said. “It was definitely hard to get the ball inside. They made an adjustment at the second half and it worked.”
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said Kansas’ switch to the zone made his big men less aggressive.
“Our focus wasn’t what it needed to be,” Snyder said. “There were times when our big guys were just standing in the zone. The fact that their zone was passive made us passive.”
Simien took control in the second half after a disappointing 20 minutes, in which he had as many fouls (two) as points. His 16 second-half points and strong defense shut down the Tigers and led to a strong Kansas win.
Simien keyed two Kansas rallies, an 8-0 run midway through the second half and a 12-4 burst to close the game. He finished an alley-oop pass from guard Aaron Miles to give Kansas a 44-42 lead with 12:37 left. He followed that with a floater in the lane on the next possession to turn a two-point Kansas deficit into a 46-42 lead.
With Kansas up 53-52, Simien scored six of the Jayhawks’ next eight points to extend their lead to 61-54 with 3:27 left, all but eliminating any chance of a Missouri rally.
Bryant said the Tigers were aware of Simien’s aggressive presence in the post but were unable to match it in the second half.
“We knew that coming in, but you have to give him credit,” Bryant said. “He’s a good player and he made big plays for them that gave them a big lift out there in the second half.”
Simien said the Jayhawks’ 68-61 loss at Iowa State on Saturday was enough motivation to come out strong against the Tigers.
“We didn’t play with any emotion in Ames,” he said. “We really wanted to come back and bounce back, especially with a big-time game like this.”
Missouri had its chances but shot 39 percent in the second half, not quite enough to overtake the Jayhawks.
“They made plays and we had chances to make plays,” Bryant said. “The ball just didn’t go in.”