Missouri coach Quin Snyder knows sophomore guard Thomas Gardner can score.
What he appreciated Tuesday were the things that can’t be found in a box score.
Thomas Gardner’s defense and vocal leadership, as well as his scoring, helped propel Missouri to a 77-61 win Tuesday against Houston in the regional finals of the Guardians Classic.
Ohio State will play Houston in the other semifinal at 5:30 p.m.
“I thought he defended better (Tuesday),” Snyder said. “I know he’s going to make some shots. The thing that’s crucial for us is his leadership on the court.”
A night after scoring a team-high 19 points in a 68-60 win against Brown, Gardner posted 18 points in 20 minutes off the bench against Houston.
Fifteen of those points came in the second half, as he scored in spurts of eight and seven points straight.
“In the second half, I really got my head into the game and really stepped it up on defense,” Gardner said. “I feel when I play defense, then my offense will come.”
Gardner also shot better Tuesday, going 4-for-8 from 3-point range. He was 3-for-10 on Monday.
“Whenever he does something on the floor I’m never surprised, I expect something good to happen,” sophomore guard Spencer Laurie said. “He’s been coming off the bench for us and bringing a lot of energy. And when he can come into the game and bring energy like that, it picks everybody up. He’s been knocking down shots. He’s been hitting floaters. He’s really just showed his entire game and what a versatile player he can be.”
The Tigers also shot better Tuesday, finishing 52.2 percent from behind the arc. On Monday, they were 26.9 percent on 3-pointers.
Junior Linas Kleiza added 19 points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting, while senior Jason Conley scored 14 points and hit 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Missouri started to pull away midway through the second half, hitting 3-pointers on three straight possessions to open up a 53-37 lead.
“Against a team like that if you try to pull it out, you’ve got to make them pay for trying to trap you and pressure you and take your shots when you have them,” Snyder said.
The first half was one of streaks.
After Houston opened up a 14-10 lead, Missouri responded with a 12-0 run. Houston battled back with a 9-0 run, as the Tigers failed to score for more than four minutes.
Missouri also scored four points during an 11-minute span in the first half as Houston took a 29-25 lead. The Tigers’ lone field goal during that span came from Kevin Young.
Kleiza ended the drought, connecting on a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half to tie the game at 29.
Houston failed to score a field goal for the final 3:45 of the first half, and the Tigers ended on a 11-0 run to lead 35-29 at the half.
Houston’s struggles carried over into the second half as it went the first 5 minutes without a field goal.
“We are capable of going on runs,” Snyder said. “I think as we become a better team, we won’t give up baskets in bunches the way we did tonight.”