Jimmy McKinney was having one of the worst games of his career. His team was losing and his shots wouldn’t fall. Then, with about five minutes left, something clicked and a lackluster game turned into one he won’t soon forget.
McKinney, a junior guard, helped the Tigers cap a late comeback to beat Murray State 59-55 on Sunday at Mizzou Arena.
With 7:30 left in the second half, Murray State had a 46-42 lead and seemed to have the momentum. Then Jason Conley had an open lane and nearly jumped over a Racer defender for a dunk and a foul. The ensuing free throw put the Tigers down by one. McKinney took over from there.
McKinney hit a 3-pointer with 4:57 left to put the Tigers up 50-48. After both defenses held strong for about three minutes, McKinney scored again to increase the lead to 52-48. Murray State’s Trey Pearson responded with a quick basket, then, on a play Missouri coach Quin Snyder called the best of the game, forward Linas Kleiza drove to the basket down low. As he drove, McKinney came open at the bottom of the arc. Kleiza kicked the ball to McKinney, who scored another 3-pointer to put the Tigers up by five with less than a minute to play.
“When Linas drove the ball, you could hear Jimmy in the corner, it was right in front of our bench, yelling ‘One more.’” Snyder said. “And Linas passes it one more time and Jimmy knocks down the shot.
“I think that’s who we’ve been as a group and that’s one of the things that got you excited about how these guys are playing.”
Conley said after McKinney hit his second 3-pointer, he had a feeling the game was going to go the Tigers’ way.
“When Jimmy hit that three, I said ‘You know what? Let’s put these guys away.’” Conley said.
McKinney’s 3-pointer didn’t quite put the Racers away because Murray State’s Shawn Witherspoon made a 3-pointer 15 seconds later. McKinney, though hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to put the Tigers up 57-53. The two points sealed the Racers fate. Even though the game was still on the line McKinney said he wasn’t nervous at all when he lined up for the free throws.
“I don’t think I ever get pressured when I go to the free-throw line,” McKinney said. “It’ll probably be more pressure on the 3-point line or even as I was driving to the basket.”
After not hitting a shot in the first 35 minutes of a game, it would be hard for any player to knock down clutch shots. McKinney said he didn’t really know how he kept up his confidence through the end of the game.
“You just got to keep shooting,” McKinney said. “I don’t know. You really don’t think about it when you’re playing. You don’t think about how many shots you miss, how many shots you make. You’re just playing. That’s the most important thing, but you’ve always got to remember to have fun.”
Although McKinney’s effort at the end of the game lifted the Tigers, he said the whole team excelled after Conley’s dunk.
“We was just in attack mode,” McKinney said. “It was everybody. Everybody was getting everybody open shots and guys were just stepping them up and knocking them down.”