MANHATTAN, Kan. – It seemed as though the taunts started as soon as the ball was tipped.
Bramlage Coliseum echoed with Kansas State fans’ taunts of “Air ball, air ball” when Jimmy McKinney’s first 3-point attempt fell short. Missouri found the right melody for its sixth-straight win after halftime, beating the Wildcats 79-69 on Saturday in a Big 12 Conference game.
“We got the message, and we did what we were supposed to do,” senior center Arthur Johnson said. “We just talked about how we don’t want to go home empty-handed.”
The Tigers (15-10, 9-5 Big 12) found success from behind the 3-point line that catapulted them back into the lead.
After shooting 35.5 percent in the first half, including 2-of-9 shooting from outside, the Tigers netted nine second-half 3s.
“We felt like at some point this year we’d have a game where we hit shots like that,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. “It came at a good time.”
Drawing a foul on a backboard-shaking dunk, senior Rickey Paulding’s free throw capped a three-point play that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 39-36 with 17:07 to play. That was the last Kansas State (12-13, 4-10) saw of a lead.
“At halftime, we felt like we needed to attack the rim,” Snyder said. “When you do that, by driving the ball, we started pitching and guys were hitting shots.”
Tigers never lost the lead
With an inside spark, the Tigers torched the Wildcats’ lead from outside.
Paulding swished back-to-back 3s from opposite sides of the court to give the Tigers a 42-39 lead with 14:48 left.
Following Paulding’s lead, Jason Conley drilled three in the second half. Paulding and Conley scored four 3-pointers each.
“Those two guys are playing with tremendous confidence right now, and they’re making each other better,” Snyder said.
The Tigers earned their sixth-straight win with double-digit scoring from four players. In the Tigers’ past five wins, a different player has led the scoring each time.
This time it was Conley’s turn. He scored 20, and Paulding scored all of his 17 in the second half. Johnson posted 14, and Bryant had 10.
“Our team right now is finding some chemistry,” Snyder said. “We’ve got a tough road ahead of us. When you play that way, and you’re sharing the ball, you don’t care who scores.”
The Tigers roared back from an early shooting slump that put them down by as many as 10 at the start of the second half.
Surviving the twists of this up-and-down season, clawing back from double-digit holes doesn’t faze the Tigers anymore, Conley said.
“We’re used to it,” Conley said. “We’re fighting so hard now that when we are down 10, we see it as 0-0. We just keep fighting forward.”
Snyder said his team’s frame of mind is feeling the most of that forward focus.
Defense plays big role in the win
Peering up from a 10-point hole, the Tigers’ set their sights on defense. They held the Wildcats (12-13, 4-10) scoreless for five minutes early in the second half. Snyder said that stopping power sparked the 16-0 run that gave them firm control.
“We’re gaining confidence in the right things,” he said. “At that time when we were down 10, our team was talking about defending. We started getting more stops, and when you get stops, you get out in transition and defense can give you confidence.
“It’s the one thing that you can control. You can’t always control the way we shot in the second half. The defense is something they’re really starting to take ownership in.”
After the lead teetered between the teams for most of the first half, the Wildcats punched the ball inside to power forward Jeremiah Massey, who led his team with 17 points and nine rebounds. The Wildcats’ frontcourt offense owned the inside battle, outscoring the Tigers 38-26 in the lane, but they couldn’t stop the Tigers’ hot hands from long range.
“They just got into a good rhythm,” Wildcats coach Jim Wooldridge said. “We couldn’t match them on the other end. They stretched it out on us, and we just couldn’t answer on the offensive end.”
When the lead started slipping late, the Tigers’ memories of the 13-point lead that faded late in Tuesday’s double-overtime scrape with Oklahoma State proved powerful. Snyder said the biggest difference in Saturday’s showing from the disappointing play in late December and January was the Tigers’ ability to regroup.
“We started kind of down that slippery slope where we turned it over,” Snyder said. “We weren’t sharp again, but this time we got it together. We finished the game very well.”