Junior transfer Randy Pulley not only started his first game Saturday against Texas A&M, he played 35 minutes and ran the Tiger offense better than it has been ran all season. With the offense at least clicking, Missouri's stretches of good defense helped the Tigers to an 82-77 win at Hearnes Center.
"He wasn't perfect tonight, but he was our most confident player with the ball," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "He gets the ball up the court quicker, he's good in transition, and he has been solid on-the-ball defensively."
Pulley's box score didn't look the greatest, with four points, four assists and three turnovers, but his ability to see the second pass gave the Tigers something they had seriously been lacking: the ability to get the ball inside.
"Even though Jimmy (McKinney) was playing point guard for us, it's not his natural position," forward Travon Bryant said. "I believe having Randy in today, he really pushed the tempo, and he really gave the chance for Rickey (Paulding) and our wings to go out and run.
"It gave us easy baskets by him pushing it, and having their bigs come over and help. He's just coming back to us for easy lay-ins."
And when the ball went inside, it went the Tiger who needed a big game more than anyone: center Arthur Johnson. Johnson, who led the Tigers with 19 points and 12 rebounds, was screaming for the ball from start to finish.
"That's what you gotta do: let ‘em know when you're open," Johnson said. "If you want the ball, you gotta let ‘em know, and that's part of being aggressive."
Another bright spot for Missouri was the play of Rickey Paulding, who went to the basket with more aggressiveness than any other game this season. It resulted in 16 points, and he made 7-of-11free throws.
"Tonight, I was just trying to be aggressive and attack and go to the basket, and I got some easy things and got to the free-throw line," Paulding said.
After squandering an eight-point lead at the end of the first half, Missouri broke the game open in the second half. Down 42-41 with 16:11 left, Missouri went on a 13-2 run, and then wouldn't give the lead again.
To no one's surprise, the key to the stretch was defense and turnovers. After turning the ball over eight times in the first half, the Tigers didn't have a turnover for the first nine minutes of the second half. During Missouri's run, the Tigers forced the Aggies to shoot 1-for-7 and commit four turnovers.
The Aggies cut the lead to as little as four in the final minutes, but Missouri made just enough free throws to keep its distance. Johnson took away the Aggies' last breath to come back, swatting away Antoine Wright's layup with 3.8 seconds left.
"It's great to see A.J. play with a lot of passion," Snyder said. "His passion is infectious, and I think the whole team picked up on it."
Missouri took a 27-17 lead with five minutes left in the first half, but the Aggies came back to go ahead 31-30. Missouri went into the locker room at halftime with a 34-31 lead.