If Missouri played Oklahoma State a day later, the results for senior stars Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson would have been spooky.
One day shy of the two-year anniversary of what Paulding called their “coming out game,” another marginal, must-have win against the Cowboys, the Detroit duo shattered all precedents, combining for 60 points in the Tigers’ 93-92 double-time victory Tuesday.
On Feb. 25, 2002, Paulding’s 21 points topped everyone, and Johnson added 18 points and a game-high 14 rebounds in the Tigers’ 72-69 win.
Their sophomore year display against the Cowboys might have been a coming out party, but Missouri coach Quin Snyder said Tuesday’s performance was nothing less than a senior show stopper.
“I think they were spectacular tonight,” he said. “I feel that they’ve played well. I don’t know if either of them have played that well together. They’re not always going to have games like that.”
Paulding put the Tigers on the scoreboard first when he swished an 18-foot jump shot at 19:41.
Everyone in Hearnes Center expected it was time for the Paulding show to take center stage, even if he didn’t know.
“Maybe not at that point,” Paulding said. “A couple of shots later, I was kind of feeling it a little bit. It was good to hit my first shot.”
He scored a game-high 31, his best outing of the season. He netted five 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds.
As much as making shots helps Paulding’s confidence, Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said it does more for his teammates’ poise.
“We want to get him the ball even more,” McKinney said. “Every time I step out on the court, I feel like I’m playing with an All-American.”
Little did Tiger fans know they were getting a double feature.
Johnson wasn’t far behind Paulding, scoring 29 and getting a game-high 13 rebounds.
“We rode him,” Snyder said. “We did a good job of getting it to him in position where he could score. Anytime we look up and he’s got 23 shots, we’ve probably done a good job offensively.”
Johnson played well defensively, too, blocking five shots.
“That’s why he’s the all-time leader,” Snyder said. “Every time I’m mad at him for not being in position defensively, he blocks a shot.”
Paulding, who committed a career-high seven turnovers against Coppin State on Dec. 2, passes and dribbles with more precision.
“He probably gets tired of me, but I’m getting him to half-court every day and making him work on his ballhandling,” Snyder said.
Johnson takes on a double-teaming defense without hesitation.
“They’ve got to keep playing like that,” Snyder said. “What they’ve done, they’ve just stayed at it. They’ve kept working, and they’ve improved through out the year.”
Think back. Not so long ago these same players earned spots on the All-Big 12 Conference team. Johnson was voted preseason conference Player of the Year, and Paulding was named a preseason All-American.
That was before the 5-9 free fall that lasted from late December to mid-February, before Tuesday’s season-elevating upset, before they were ready to hear one another whisper about those sort of expectations, Snyder said.
“The season is a lifetime in and of itself,” Snyder said. “You have to continue building. I think they had real high expectations for themselves on the way in, and when you don’t have the immediate success that you expect or that others expect, it’s easy to have a little doubt.”