Six weeks don’t mean anything in any conventional relationship or job, but in the Big 12 Conference, that time can make all the difference. It did for Missouri.
The Tigers trounced Iowa State 82-70 on Wednesday at Hearnes Center, expunging almost every blemish that plagued them in a conference opening letdown to the Cyclones more than a month ago.
The Tigers (12-10, 6-5 Big 12) didn’t play like the same team, and they didn’t look like the same team.
“It was just a matter of time before things were going to change and we were going to change,” Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said. “It’s a collective thing.”
After nearly squandering a 17-point lead, the Tigers came roaring back in a way the Cyclones (14-8, 5-6) never expected.
With freshman power forward Linas Kleiza out for the season and 6-foot-9 senior Travon Bryant sidelined with four fouls, the Tigers stifled a Cyclones’ comeback with four guards.
McKinney leads Tigers
With 6:04 left, McKinney drove to the basket after every Tiger on the court touched the ball. Jared Homan’s slashing final foul was enough to stop McKinney’s shot, but it sent an 85 percent free throw shooter to the line.
Fourth in the league from the foul line, McKinney swished both shots to send the lead to 68-60.
Bryant re-entered with five minutes left, but the Tigers’ win was imminent.
“It was one of those really unconventional games with both teams in foul trouble,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “I thought we really attacked the basket well late in the game and got to the line.”
After the Tigers stretched the score to 52-35, their biggest lead of the game, the Tigers started giving up careless fouls. Referees whistled Thomas Gardner, Rickey Paulding and Bryant, but Bryant’s two calls were costly.
Bryant missed when out of game with foul trouble
When speedy Cyclone rookie Curtis Stinson slipped passed the Tigers’ Jason Conley, Bryant shoved his 236-pound frame over to help. He fouled Stinson instead, and Snyder sent him to the bench with more than 13 minutes left.
“We need Travon; we’re much better when he’s in the game,” Snyder said. “Without him, I thought they were able to get back in the game.”
Sophomore forward Kevin Young stepped in for Bryant, but his inexperience showed, and the Cyclones dominated inside. The Cyclones went inside for nine points.
When a sloppy foul from Young prompted a three-point play from Stinson, Snyder pulled him and used four guards. Senior center Arthur Johnson was the only big man on the floor for the Tigers.
“He was a little tired at the end,” Snyder said. “That was a lot of minutes for him, but AJ anchors us offensively. He’s doing a better job against the double team. He really rebounded well tonight and got some tough rebounds.”
Johnson teamed 16 points with a game-high 11 rebounds. He wasn’t the only Tiger reaping rebounds and offense. The Tigers outrebounded the Cyclones 43-27.
When the teams met in January, the Cyclones grabbed one more rebound than the Tigers, marking the first time the Tigers were outrebounded.
McKinney, Conley and Paulding combined for 54 of the Tigers’ points and they also totaled 16 rebounds.
Perimeter defense slows Cyclones' quick guards
The guards cranked the defensive heat around the perimeter, holding the Cyclones to two 3-pointers after allowing five in the first half.
The Tigers’ learned their lesson the first time these teams met as Iowa State shot 55.6 percent from outside.
“We let them get some stuff down low, but I think we really pulled together in the end,” Kroenke said. “The bench played well tonight, and it was a booster for everybody. I ran the four-spot in practice and got used to it a little bit. It’s not the most ideal place I like playing, but whenever I’m out there, it’s kind of fun. We kind of kept them guessing.”
The Tigers won their third straight for the first time since opening 3-0. Wednesday’s win also moved them into a fourth-place tie in the conference standings.
The only other time Missouri won three straight games, Tiger guard Jason Conley wasn’t playing because he was sitting out to meet transfer requirements.
“It’s better late than never that we’re coming together now,” Conley said. “I’m glad I could be a part of it.”
Conley ended the Tigers’ scoreless streak of three minutes with a three-point play and a dunk, stretching the lead to 62-55.
The Tigers turned back to their bad habits, committing six turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cyclones took advantage of every Missouri fumble, cutting the Tigers’ lead to four with a 12-2 run, but 59-55 was as close as the Cyclones could get.
The Tigers’ stingy early defense forced 18 turnovers and held the Cyclones scoreless for five minutes to end the first half ahead 43-31.