As troubling and disappointing as the dismissal of former point guard Randy Pulley might be, Pulley’s departure has opened the door for Jason Conley.
Conley, a 6-foot-5 junior, has taken advantage of this situation and again become a viable, offensive threat off the Missouri bench. After several weeks of struggles, Conley looked more like the player who led the nation in scoring two years ago at Virginia Military Institute.
Conley said he has found the confidence he lacked when he was stuck at the end of the Tigers’ bench.
“I started off a little slow as far as taking care of the ball and defensive wise,” Conley said. “I totally understand what coach (Quin Snyder) means when he puts me in the game. I have to make a defensive impact. As far as the offense, it will come. As I got comfortable and started to play defense more, it just came.”
Conley scored 12 points in 19 minutes and produced key plays during the decisive run in the Tigers’ 77-65 win Tuesday night against Colorado. He started the 12-2 run with a 3-pointer and finished it with a put-back. Conley’s 3-pointer gave the lead back to the Tigers 60-59. He made 5-of-10 shots.
At Nebraska on Saturday, Conley played extensive minutes for the first time since he played 19 against Belmont on Jan. 30. Against the Cornhuskers, he had 12 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes.
The 12-point total was his highest output since his Missouri debut when he scored 19 against UNC-Greensboro on Dec. 21.
Defense key to Conley's success
“Finding it on the defensive end is the key and I think the more Jason throws himself into that, it’s going to take his mind off of (his offense),” Snyder said. “When he is relaxed, he can make shots. It is not an accident that he got an offensive rebound and a put back, made some plays, and then he knocks down a 3.
“The game kind of goes like that. I am happy for Jason, and we need to keep it going.”
Pulley, who averaged 1.6 points in 11 games as the team’s primary ballhandler, was dismissed Friday, a day before the Tigers (10-10, 5-5 Big 12 Conference) played at Nebraska. The Tigers suspended Pulley indefinitely Jan. 31 because he missed two days of practice after the Tigers’ game at Colorado on Jan. 28.
Pulley started five straight games beginning with the Tigers’ game Jan. 10 against Texas A&M, but Pulley’s minutes dwindled to two Jan. 24 against Nebraska and none at Colorado. He did not travel with the team to Kansas for the team’s game Feb. 2.
The move left the Tigers with one pure point guard, freshman Spencer Laurie, and as a result, Conley assumed some of the duties at the point at Nebraska.
With Pulley off the team and senior guard Josh Kroenke out because of a cut in his right leg suffered in Sunday’s practice, Conley said he feels looser and able to make players easier.
“It’s kind of pressure off my shoulders,” Conley said. “When I was not in the game, I felt as soon as I get in the game, if I make a mistake, I have to come out. Now, knowing that things have happened, it feels good to get into it.”
Tigers struggle to find pure point guard
Even though Conley has spent some time as the team’s point guard, the situation remains unresolved. Sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney, who started the season as the point guard, has again taken control of most of the ballhandling. McKinney said, though, it might not be important to name a point guard.
“I don’t think we have a point guard,” McKinney said. “I just think we are playing five guys out there. I think we’re playing with three guards because anybody can bring the ball up the court. Against the set defense, I’m just at the top getting the guys into the play. I think we’re just playing three guards, and we play it more loose that way.”
Although McKinney said he prefers the relaxed situation, he is willing to take control and direct the offense when order is needed.
Against Colorado, McKinney scored eight and had four assists. Laurie played only seven minutes but hit a 3-pointer with 10:37 left that stopped a Buffaloes run.