Tigers drop UNC-Greensboro

With Jason Conley and Randy Pulley in their first game with Missouri, the Tigers seemed ready for their best performance of the season. But old problems, loose defense and turnovers, led to a much closer game than expected. In the end, though, Missouri avoided another catastrophe and held on for a win.

After waiting a year for his Missouri debut, Jason Conley thought he had slept all the way through Missouri's shootaround.

He hustled out of bed, hurried to get ready, and then he took the time to take another look at his clock.

It was 3 a.m. He was dreaming.

"It was the scariest dream I ever had," Conley said. "(The game) was on my mind all night. I shut off my phone; I didn't want to speak to anybody."

Conley had a much better Sunday afternoon than Saturday night, scoring 19 points and helping Missouri again avoid what would have been a sure nightmarish loss. The Tigers never quite broke free of North Carolina-Greensboro, but their newfound depth helped them to a 106-98 win at the Hearnes Center.

Conley made seven of his 11 shots, including two 3-pointers, a fast-break dunk and an alley-oop from Rickey Paulding. The shots weren't forced, though, and Conley actually found himself surprisingly open consistently, a far cry from his days starring at VMI.

"Everybody expects me to go grab it, but I'm in a situation where I'm not at VMI," Conley said. "Here you have to let things come to you. I think that's what happened out there, and we got a win."

It was also the Missouri debut for transfer Randy Pulley, who only played 11 minutes but had five points and two assists and that time. He helped Missouri build a 16-point lead in the second half, but neither he nor any of the Tigers could keep the Spartans from mounting several comebacks.

With Conley and Pulley eligible, scoring wasn't a problem for Missouri, which shot 64.5 percent and had five players in double figures. The Tigers' defense, though, was a concern with the Braggin' Rights game against No. 21 Illinois coming up on Tuesday. UNC-Greensboro shot 56.5 percent.

"There's too many breakdowns, and when a team's shooting 56 percent against you, you're usually going to lose," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "We gotta do a better job on the defensive end."

The Spartans had little problem finding open shots, with Missouri's defense struggling to rotate to open shooters. UNC-Greensboro's Jay Joseph and Ronnie Burrell led all scorers with 22 points. Joseph did his damage in the first half with 18, and Burrell scored 16 of his points in the second half.

"You know how sometimes you try so hard, and you never can do it? I think it was one of those days," guard Jimmy McKinney said. "We wanted to do it so bad. It's just something we really, really wanted to commit on. But tonight, we're really disappointed with ourselves."

Paulding struggled shooting for the fourth consecutive game, going 3-for-9 for nine points. He didn't score until 11 minutes into the game, but then scored all nine of his points in a 2:30 span to build Missouri's lead to 92-76, its biggest of the night. The Spartans whittled away at the lead, but could come no closer than eight.

Missouri's Linus Kleiza scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half, and he also finished with nine rebounds despite playing only 17 minutes. But his technical foul in the second half let UNC-Greensboro back in the game right when Missouri seemed to be pulling away.

Missouri had gone up 61-52 with 15:45 left, but on the next possession, official Scott Thornley called Kleiza for a foul on Ricky Hickman's made layup. Kleiza threw the ball down in disgust, and Thornley called him. Joseph made both the free throws, Hickman made his free throw for the foul, and suddenly Missouri's lead was only 61-57.

"We always tell Linney to calm down after a call, but I don't think he did anything too major," guard Josh Kroenke said. "I don't think Linus would intentionally get a technical foul or disrespect a referee like that."

Arthur Johnson tied Conley for the team high with 19 points, and he also had six rebounds and three blocks. Travon Bryant had 17 points, going 8-fo-8 from the field and also contributing two assists and two blocks. McKinney scored 10.

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories