WACO, Texas – As one of Missouri’s four senior captains, Rickey Paulding knows he should have his hands on the ball late in games.
Paulding had his wish in the Tigers’ 70-66 win against Baylor in a Big 12 Conference game Saturday. Unlike earlier in the season, Paulding converted his opportunities, sealing the win.
Paulding made 5-of-6 decisive free throws in the final 1:33. His miss in the stretch was the second of a one-and-one with 2.1 seconds left and the Tigers leading 70-66. The five free throws were the Tigers’ final points.
“I knew I had been in the situation before,” Paulding said. “I think I was a little more confident, had a little more resolve and will to make the free throws. I kept telling myself to just make the free throws and try to relax.”
Paulding, who averages 77 percent from the foul line, didn’t have similar results when the Tigers (13-10, 7-5 Big 12) hosted Texas on Jan. 20. With fewer than three minutes left in regulation, Paulding missed 2-of-3 free throws that would have secured the game. The misses allowed the Longhorns’ Brian Boddicker to hit a tying 3-pointer to force overtime.
Paulding, a 6-foot-5 guard, missed three more free throws in overtime, and the Tigers lost 75-69.
“You won’t see many games like that where he misses free throws down the stretch,” sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney said. “(Saturday) he was the old Rickey Paulding.
“Most definitely, we always look for him (down the stretch), and I’m the point guard. I make sure I look for him, and I make sure I get the ball to the spots that he’s comfortable in.”
After the loss to Texas, Missouri coach Quin Snyder said Paulding’s shaky shooting against the Longhorns was an aberration. Paulding proved that true against Baylor (7-18, 2-10). Paulding finished 9-of-11 from the foul line, scoring all but six of his 15 points from the foul line.
During the Tigers’ four-game winning streak, Paulding is 14-of-17 from the foul line, and Paulding’s nine are a season high.
Although others such as freshman guard Thomas Gardner and McKinney shoot better percentages than Paulding, Snyder said Paulding is the team’s most experienced free-throw shooter and should have it in key situations.
“I thought he had a poise about him (Saturday),” Snyder said. “I think he did want the ball. He wanted to be at the line.”
Instead of selecting McKinney or Gardner to shoot two technical free throws with 7:40 left, Snyder put Paulding on the line. He made 1-of-2, which gave the Tigers a 56-54 lead.
“He has shot technicals before,” Snyder said. “He expected to shoot it. I know he made 1-of-2. That’s been his job, to make Ts, and he has been pretty good at it. I thought he made me look good down the stretch when he stuck them.”
Because of the Baylor zone and early struggles with his jumper, Paulding made a concerted effort to penetrate to the basket. When he didn’t score, he either drew a foul or found an open teammate.
“I felt I wasn’t shooting the ball pretty well, but I wanted to just attack the basket,” Paulding said. “I thought we would get some good things going to the basket and going inside, and I got to the free throw line, so that was good.
“Once you get a couple layups and free throws and fouls, it’s easier to score, and the rim gets a little bigger for you.”
The offensive effort transferred to defense, where Paulding did a solid job against Baylor’s Terrance Thomas. Thomas, who entering the game ranked fourth in Big 12 scoring at 16.5 per game, never found a rhythm. Although he scored 10 points, Thomas made 3-of-12 shots.