MANHATTAN, Kan. – Before the season started, many thought Jason Conley would boost Missouri’s offense.
Although that didn’t happen immediately, Conley, a junior guard, has begun to play a big role, thanks in large part to his rediscovered confidence.
Conley’s poise again aided the Tigers in a 79-69 victory against Kansas State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I think you quantify (his effect) in wins and losses, on a certain level,” Missouri coach Quin Snyder said.
The Wildcats tightened their interior defense in the first half, and the Tigers (15-10, 9-5) needed a spark to open it up. Conley supplied that spark with accurate long-range shooting.
Conley made 4-of-5 shots after halftime, including 3-of-4 3-pointers. He scored 16 of his game-high 20 points in the second. Conley’s other basket in the second was a 3-point play. He was fouled on fast-break layup.
“I’m one of those guys, I think, that learns from his mistakes,” Conley said. “In the first half, I was forcing a couple shots, but after a while I picked it up.”
Conley’s final basket, a 3-pointer with 2:28 left, pushed the Tigers’ lead to 73-56, their biggest.
Conley’s newfound confidence proved valuable after a slow start. After making an early entrance because of sophomore guard Jimmy McKinney’s foul trouble, Conley hit his first shot but then missed his next five.
Conley adapts to the situation
Earlier in the season, Conley often hesitated to shoot when things didn’t go well, but his early struggles against the Wildcats (12-13, 4-10) didn’t faze him. Conley kept shooting, and the shots began to go in.
“We wanted to attack the rim, but their zone was packed in so much that it was kind of tough,” Conley said. “So we said, ‘You know what, if we can’t attack the rim, let’s kill them from the outside,’ and that’s what we did.”
During the Tigers’ six-game winning streak, Conley has scored in double figures five times.
“He was great,” Missouri senior forward Travon Bryant said. “He has continued to go out there and play. It’s his confidence, you can see it. When he wasn’t having as much success earlier in the year, he was reluctant to shoot the ball when he was open.”
Bryant said Conley has relaxed, which has resulted in free-flowing, confident performances.
Although Conley’s shooting was excellent in the second half, his all-around performance cannot be ignored. Conley also added a stabilizing effect on the point guard position against the Wildcats, getting four assists against one turnover.
Conley also tied for a team-high with seven rebounds.
“Jason guarded (Saturday), too,” Snyder said. “It hurts him when he loses his guy, gives up a bucket. He has got a lot of pride, and when he’s solid defensively, he puts himself in a position where you really have to have him out there because he’s doing so many other good things.”
SORE SHOULDER FOR GARDNER: Freshman guard Thomas Gardner bruised his left shoulder after Jarrett Hart fouled him on an alley-oop attempt with 5:58 left in the first half.
Gardner caught a pass from Conley on the right side of the rim, but before he could dunk it, Hart hit his arms. Gardner fell and landed on his shoulder.
He stayed in the game momentarily, making 1-of-2 free throws resulting from the foul, then left.
Gardner returned with 1:52 left in the half but did not score after the fall. He had seven points before leaving with the injury.
The missed free throw is Gardner’s first miss from the foul line since the first game. Gardner made 22 straight. He is shooting 92 percent.
KROENKE FULL STRENGTH: After playing limited minutes because of the flu against Oklahoma State on Tuesday night, senior forward Josh Kroenke said he felt much better Saturday.
As a result, he played 12 minutes, making his lone shot, a fast-break 3-pointer with 5:38 left in the first half. He also grabbed three rebounds.
Kroenke said he felt dizzy and had an upset stomach when he woke up Tuesday morning. Kroenke also said he had a fever of 101 degrees when he checked into the hospital Tuesday morning.
ESPN-MINUS: The Wildcats probably aren’t a fan of ESPN Plus, ESPN’s regional television network, which broadcast Saturday’s game.
The Wildcats have not won in seven appearances on the station. ESPN Plus also televised the first meeting between the teams, which the Tigers won 62-53 on Jan. 31.
The Wildcats also fell to 0-9, 0-7 in the Big 12, when their opponent scores more than 70 points. Consequently, the Wildcats are 12-4 when they allow 69 or fewer.