MANHATTAN, Kan. — Contrary to traditional basketball logic, a Rickey Paulding dunk is often worth more than two points.
Any Missouri fan who has witnessed Paulding’s aerial acrobatics during his four seasons in black and gold could point to a handful of ferocious slams from the senior swingman. Although his dunk early in the second half against Kansas State on Saturday afternoon might not be his best, it should definitely be in the discussion.
“The one over (Kansas’ Eric) Chenowith was a special thing,” senior forward Travon Bryant said. “He just went right over the top of him and dunked it.”
That play came in Paulding’s freshman year, a strong one-handed dunk over Chenowith, a center. That dunk did not spark the Tigers, who eventually fell to the No. 10 Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse.
Paulding’s slam against the Wildcats, the second basket of a 19-1 Missouri run, turned the game around and pushed the Tigers to a 79-69 win at Bramlage Coliseum.
Coaches told Paulding to be more agressive
After Kansas State outplayed the Tigers and took a 35-28 into halftime, Paulding quickly turned a few words of advice from the coaching staff into a game-changing play.
“At halftime, we told him, ‘You have to look at the bucket more,’” coach Quin Snyder said. “We needed him to be more aggressive because they were really sagging in on the post.”
Paulding’s dunk changed that and opened up the Tigers’ outside game. After Bryant pulled down a rebound and fed him the ball, Paulding found himself on a two-on-one break with guard Jason Conley. Paulding looked over to his teammate, drawing Kansas State guard Frank Richards toward Conley. Paulding then swooped toward the basket from the right side and slammed the ball over Richards with one hand, drawing a blocking foul in the process.
Paulding converted at the line to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 39-34 and spark the Missouri bench.
“I was at the top, kind of thinking about passing to Jason, and I thought I saw (Richards) go over a little bit, but he didn’t go over that much at all,” Paulding said. “(The foul) probably could have gone both ways, but it was a big energy boost for me on the offensive end.
“I saw the bench, in the huddle, that we were really excited.”
Center Arthur Johnson has seen many dramatic Paulding finishes and knew this one had the potential to change the game.
“It was big-time,” Johnson said. “He does that sometimes; he does that a lot. It was huge for us. It got us on a little run.”
It sparked Paulding, too. After being held scoreless in the first half, Paulding took off after taking off. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 39 and give Missouri a three-point edge. He hit two more later in the half and finished with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from the outside.
Missouri (15-10, 9-5 Big 12 Conference) put together one of its best offensive halves of the season, racking up 51 points against a bewildered Kansas State defense on 64 percent shooting from both the field and 3-point range in the second half.
“(Paulding) played pretty well,” Kansas State coach Jim Wooldridge said. “He was one of the guys in that stretch that was making plays. You would think that a player of his caliber would do that sometime during the ballgame and he certainly did.”
Paulding's assists are as important as his dunks
As important as the dunk was Paulding’s ability to distribute the ball. After handing out a career-high nine assists against UNLV on Feb. 15, Paulding added eight Saturday.
“More than the dunk, the level that Rickey’s (play) is going right now is probably not being noticed,” Snyder said. “You don’t have a guy that goes and gets (eight) assists and one turnover and scores like he did very often at that position.”
Although a loss to the Wildcats (12-13, 4-10) would have been disastrous for Missouri’s postseason hopes, Paulding’s dunk snapped the Tigers out of their sluggish play and sparked them to their sixth consecutive win.
“It was such a spectacular play,” Snyder said. “You just don’t see that play very often.”
Paulding was all smiles after the game, clearly enjoying discussing his dunk. He struggled to classify it among his best, deferring until he saw it on video. Regardless, the dunk was big enough to earn a key late-season win.
“It felt good,” Paulding said.
“I’ve been missing plays like that, but it feels good to get one, especially on the road.”