WACO, Texas — After tending to find ways to lose games earlier this season, Missouri has begun to do the opposite.
Two technical fouls served as momentum-changing plays and the Tigers held off a Baylor rally to win their fourth consecutive game Saturday 70-66 in a Big 12 Conference game at the Ferrell Center.
“We’ve been getting better,” Missouri center Arthur Johnson said. “We probably wouldn’t have won this game a month ago, but we did tonight, so it don’t matter about that.”
Missouri (13-10, 7-5 Big 12) took advantage of a technical foul on Baylor forward Harvey Thomas to take a 59-54 lead in the second half. Thomas was whistled for protesting a charging call on Baylor guard Tommy Swanson, sending Missouri swingman Rickey Paulding to the line for two shots.
Paulding made one, and after a timeout, guard Jimmy McKinney hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, giving the Tigers four points on the possession.
Had Swanson drawn a blocking foul and made his free throws, Baylor would have had taken a 56-55 advantage. Instead, the Tigers were up by five with 7:22 left after McKinney’s 3-pointer.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder said his team’s confidence on 3-pointer, including 4-of-8 shooting in the second half, has sparked the offense.
“I think some of our guys are feeling it this time of year,” Snyder said. “They want to take their shots and they don’t want to go down with any bullets in their gun.”
Both teams were able to do that: The Tigers shot 49 percent, and the Bears finished at 48.9 percent. The teams were similar in most statistical categories, but Missouri had a significant advantage in rebounding, pulling down 34 to Baylor’s 22.
The Tigers used 15 offensive rebounds to score 16 second-chance points, compared with Baylor’s eight rebounds for eight points.
Another technical foul, this one on Johnson, gave Missouri a spark in the first half. After Johnson committed an offensive foul, his second in fewer than two minutes, he slammed the ball to the floor in frustration, drawing the technical.
With forward Travon Bryant on the bench with two fouls, the Tigers were forced into a four-guard lineup when Johnson sat.
After finding success with a small lineup against Iowa State on Wednesday, the Tigers did so again, answering the technical with a 17-4 run over the next 5:33. Missouri guard Jason Conley had 10 of his game-high 24 points in the run, and with 1:58 left in the half Missouri had a 30-24 lead, its largest of the game.
“I think sometimes those things can rattle your team,” Snyder said. “We’ve had some experience with having to rally together around adversity. The word we’ve been talking about a lot is perseverance.”
Snyder said he was happy with how the smaller lineup matched up against the Bears.
“We put ourselves in some tough situations with some mental mistakes and fouls,” he said. “I thought our small lineup did a good job holding down the fort in the first half and we had to go to it again in the second half.”
Bryant committed his third foul with 17:13 left in the second half, forcing Snyder to bring guard Josh Kroenke in to replace him. Missouri trailed 40-35 after Swanson made two free throws, but the Tigers responded with an 11-2 run over the next 2:26. Conley again sparked the rally, scoring eight to give Missouri a 46-42 lead.
The teams went back and forth for much of the rest of the half, with the Bears drawing within 67-64 when Thomas made a free throw with 1:23 left. After McKinney almost turned the ball over on an inbounds pass on the next possession, Paulding traveled.
Thomas scored a layup to cut the lead to one, but, after Paulding made two free throws, Baylor guard Matt Sayman missed a deep 3-pointer to secure Missouri’s win.
It was a victory, Snyder said, because of his team’s progress in the past few weeks.
“There were some things I saw on the court today that I didn’t see six weeks ago, that I didn’t see a month ago,” Snyder said. “There has been some growth that has occurred in the interim and we needed it all to win today.”
A Baylor win Saturday might have ended Missouri’s dim NCAA Tournament hopes, but the Tigers continue to refuse to believe that their postseason destination is at stake every game. No matter how Missouri looks at it, losing to the Bears (7-18, 2-10) would have been devastating.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now, but I would say so,” Johnson said. “It was a game we had to win just for ourselves, with a tight conference race coming to a close quickly. We just had to do the things it takes to get a W tonight.”
Thomas led Baylor with 16 points and six rebounds and center R.T. Guinn scored 15 on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench. When he committed his fourth foul with 9:11 left, Baylor’s offense was weakened significantly for the rest of the game.
Even with the foul trouble, the Bears were there with the Tigers until Sayman’s 3-pointer was off the mark. Despite being a heavy favorite entering the game, the Tigers knew the Bears would push them for 40 minutes.
“We expected it,” Paulding said. “We just wanted to stay together and not give up.”