Jason Conley said he wanted them more than anyone else on the court.
It wasn’t points the Missouri’s lone senior wanted. It was rebounds and he got plenty.
Conley, know affectionately as “Coop” to his teammates, earned his first double-double of his Missouri career to help boost the Tigers to a 63-61 victory against No. 12 Gonzaga. Conley led the Tigers with 16 points and 13 rebounds. His play demanded the attention of Missouri coach Quin Snyder.
“Coop had his best game, in my mind, since he’s been here,” Snyder said. “If you get 13 rebounds in a game like this, you’re finding other ways to help your team win. I thought that was just a tremendous effort on his part.”
Numbers weren’t the only thing impressive about Conley’s game. Several times Conley drove to the basket but missed a shot and disappeared in the throng of bodies going for the rebound. Then he would reappear with the ball and put it off the glass for an easy two points.
Conley had another alley-oop at the perfect moment for the Tigers.
About midway through the first quarter, the Tigers started to struggle against Gonzaga’s zone defense. Missouri settled for outside shots that weren’t falling and struggled to push the ball inside. Conley was the key to unlocking the zone.
Sophomore guard Thomas Gardner had the ball out on the perimeter and launched the ball so high it looked like it was going to sail out of bounds.
But Conley sprinted down the baseline, jumped and plucked the ball out of the air for a big two-handed dunk to put the Tigers ahead 19-14.
Conley also added two steals. Although he appeared to be all over the court, he said that he wasn’t tired at all after the game.
“It’s a whole different ball game when you’re playing the way that we are as a team now, you don’t really get tired,” Conley said. “You just keep fighting.”
Another reason Conley wasn’t tired after the game was that he had plenty of time to rest. Conley played limited minutes toward the end of the game, which is not uncommon. Snyder often chooses to put his proven defenders in at the end of close games, and Conley is not one of them.
Conley, though, played great defense Thursday night. He was having a phenomenal game, but had no reservations about being taken out.
“I have total confidence in my coaching staff and whatever choices they make I’m fine with them,” Conley said. “The whole point is to win the game and they knew what they were doing and we won so I have their back.”
Conley said the win against Gonzaga meant a lot for Missouri’s postseason hopes this year. The win was a good first step in earning a spot in the 65-team bracket for the NCAA tournament in March according to Conley.
“I’ve been talking about it since we lost the Illinois game,” Conley said. “I’ve been saying … Everybody in this room has been saying this is our first real … (test), if we want to have a real postseason, this is our first real step.”