For a player who was named to the Academic All Big 12 team, it seemed like an unorthodox approach.
But with all the thinking Jimmy McKinney has done throughout this season, Jason Conley knew McKinney needed to give his mind a rest.
McKinney let loose, smiled some and had one of the best games of his career as Missouri edged Kansas 72-68 on Sunday at Mizzou Arena.
“My mind was free,” McKinney said. “I was just out there playing. I was just out there having fun. That’s the most important thing, I forgot how to have fun but tonight it came back to me.”
It came back to McKinney, who entered the game averaging 6.7 points, in the form of 21 points, tying a career high, and four assists.
His previous season high was 16 against Houston in the second game of the year.
“He was just ballin’,” Missouri’s Linas Kleiza said. “He was driving, knocking shots down, that was big.
“He’s had a tough year. He’s been struggling. That was the biggest thing, for him to relax and play, because he’s a great player.”
McKinney was 3-for-3 from behind the arc, 6-for-7 from the floor and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
His first 3-pointer came with Missouri trailing 8-0 two minutes into the first half.
“After that first 3 he hit, I was like, ‘Ah, he’s going off today,’” Conley said.
McKinney’s biggest contribution, though, wasn’t a basket, but an assist.
With less than 1:30 left in the second half, McKinney drove down the middle of the lane and dished to Thomas Gardner on the baseline. Gardner took the ball in stride and threw down a two-handed dunk to give the Tigers a 68-64 lead, which they would preserve at the free-throw line.
McKinney was also a stabilizing figure for the Tigers earlier in the second half when their 15-point lead dwindled to two.
After Kevin Young passionately objected to his fifth foul with 5:06 left, McKinney grabbed him by the jersey and settled him down.
“I made sure guys were focused and we didn’t let this slip out of our hands,” McKinney said.
The ball was in McKinney’s hands for most of his 37 minutes. He primarily ran the point because Jason Horton, the team’s starting point guard, was suspended for the game for “conduct detrimental to the team,” a press release said.
Missouri coach Quin Snyder wouldn’t elaborate any further.
“It’s a private matter,” Snyder said. “We have certain standards for our program both in practice and in games that need to be adhered too.”
Horton, who had four turnovers, one assist and no points Wednesday at Iowa State, said McKinney did a good job of dictating the tempo of the game and played great defense.
Snyder said he talked to McKinney about making every possession like being at open gym or on the playground, where it’s game point and if you lose you have to sit out for an hour, and if you win, you get to stay on.
“I think Jimmy played with a real sense of freedom that he hasn’t always had this year,” Snyder said.
McKinney was one of the first to admit he felt that freedom.
“In your mind you know what you can do, you know how you can affect the game, how you can be the player that you’re capable of being,” McKinney said. “It’s frustrating when you haven’t been having that good of a year, but it came out tonight. It was just a little glimpse of what I can do.”