Missouri coach Quin Snyder has waited for the game, in which several of his scorers had hot hands.
It finally happened when the Tigers made quick work of UNLV 94-60 on Sunday at Hearnes Center.
Freshman guard Thomas Gardner, senior center Arthur Johnson and junior guard Jason Conley led the Tigers (11-10) to one of their most dominating offensive performances of the season.
“We haven’t had a game like that when everybody is hitting,” Snyder said. “There have been times this year where I don’t know how good about ourselves we’ve felt. Some of that is how we’ve played. It’s also been a climate that has existed. It’s been tough on our guys.
“I think (after) a game like this, they’ll be walking a little taller on campus, and that’s good for them. They deserve that.”
Johnson had 16 of his game-high 23 points in the first half and his first 20-plus point game of the season. Gardner scored a career-high 20, including 18 in the first half, and Conley had 17 on 6-of-12 shooting.
Gardner said the widespread success on offense was a long time coming.
“It’s fun,” Gardner said. “(Sunday) really showed, really proved to ourselves if we go out there and rebound and defend what we can do on the offensive end.”
The first three, though, were not alone in the offensive outburst for the Tigers shot 51 percent from the field and made 13-of-25 3-pointers. Senior guard Rickey Paulding scored in double figures for the fourth straight game with 12. Senior forward Travon Bryant, who had 18 in a near-perfect shooting game Tuesday against Colorado, scored 11.
The Tigers took the lead for good and blew the game open on two runs in the first half. The first one began with the Tigers trailing 8-4 with 14:52 left when Bryant put back a Johnson miss.
During the next 4:22, the Tigers scored on seven consecutive possessions. The 15-0 run put the Tigers ahead 19-8. Johnson, who scored eight of the Tigers’ first 13 points had four during the stretch. Gardner capped the run with a fast-break layup.
The other big first-half run began with 7:10 left when Bryant hit his first 3-pointer. That shot gave the Tigers a 35-21 lead, and it grew to 48-25 with 3:39 left. Johnson had six points during that stretch, and Gardner ended it with a 3-pointer from the right corner.
The second run featured two huge dunks. Sophomore center Kevin Young slammed in a Conley’s miss with 5:12 left. Two possessions later, Johnson dunked on an alley-oop from Conley to give the Tigers a 45-25 lead with 4:07 left.
“We’ve been working on getting the ball to the post where I can score more instead of just throwing it to me,” Johnson said. “I’ve been trying to get better position so I can just go right into my shot.”
The run was a part of a stretch, in which the Tigers scored on 11 consecutive possessions. From 14:54 to 1:59 of the first half, the Tigers scored on 21-of-22 possessions, and in that time, the Tigers outscored the Runnin’ Rebels 48-19. The Tigers grabbed nine offensive rebounds in that time and did not commit a turnover.
Johnson put an exclamation on the half with a one-handed slam on a feed from Paulding with 41 seconds left. The fast-break basket put the Tigers ahead 54-27 at halftime.
The Tigers finished the half with more offensive rebounds, 13, than the Runnin’ Rebels (12-9) had rebounds, 11.
Another key to Missouri’s offensive brilliance was excellent ball movement. The Tigers, who rank ninth in the Big 12 Conference in turnover-to-assist ratio, had 15 assists to two turnovers. Paulding and Conley each had five assists in the half.
“(It was) our best game passing the ball,” Snyder said. “I thought unselfish play was really apparent on the offensive end.”
The Tigers finished with 25 assists, which is a season-high.
Paulding, who leads the team in scoring at 15.2 per game, has done the little things well the past two games. After he had a career-high seven assists Tuesday, he improved the mark with nine assists Sunday.
“It felt good,” Paulding said. “I think Thomas and AJ and everybody else made me look good more than I.”
The Tigers’ 54 first-half points was the most since they scored 56 against Southern on Dec. 6, 2001, and the 34-point margin of victory is their biggest since a 98-60 win against Sacramento State on Dec. 2, 2002.
The Tigers scored with as much ease in the second half as they did in the first. Johnson’s basket and resulting 3-point play gave the Tigers an 83-45 lead with 7:51 left. That was the Tigers biggest lead at any point this season. They matched it when Conley hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Tigers a 91-53 lead with 4:02 left.
With the game well in hand, only Johnson played more than 30 minutes. As a result, Young played a career-high 22 minutes and used that time effectively. He scored four points and tied a team-high with eight rebounds. Seven of Young’s rebounds were offensive.
With 3:48 left, Snyder emptied his bench and inserted walk-on guard Brian Dailey into the lineup. The appearance marked Dailey’s fourth of the season. The student section began chanting Dailey’s name with about five minutes left.