COLUMBIA, Mo. - All No. 10 Missouri needed to end its streak of close calls was a hot streak from Rickey Paulding and scoring help from Jason Conley.
Paulding, a preseason All-America, was held scoreless until the midway point of the second half, but scored nine points in a late run as Missouri beat North Carolina-Greensboro 106-98 Sunday.
Conley, a transfer, had 19 points in his Tigers’ debut, while Arthur Johnson scored 19 points and Linas Kleiza and Travon Bryant each had 17 for Missouri (4-1).
Paulding hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to ignite an 11-0 run that gave Missouri a 92-76 lead with under seven minutes to play. After a layup by Jimmy McKinney, Paulding added six consecutive points and the Spartans (4-5) got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
“I know I can’t hang my head every time I miss a shot,” said Paulding, who scored all of his points during the run. “I just try and do the small things and concentrate on something like defense because I know my offense will come. You’ve got A.J., Travon and Jason, so I’m not really concerned about that.”
Jay Joseph and Ronnie Burrell each had 22 points for the Spartans, while Dwon Clifton and Ronnie Taylor each added 13 and Ricky Hickman 10. Joseph also played a part in containing Paulding.
“We were focused on him, of course, but we mixed our defenses up and I think that confused him a little bit,” Joseph said. “He looked to set his teammates up a lot. He wasn’t forcing anything and he hit some big shots late.
“He played a great game. Just because he didn’t score, he still made his teammates better.”
Missouri’s three previous victories were by a total of 19 points, and its only loss came in overtime to Gonzaga. The Tigers even needed a 21-2 run to close its latest win over Indiana.
“We need to finish teams,” Conley said. “It’s too close, but I think we’ll pick that up over a period of time.”
Conley and Randy Pulley helped make the difference in their first games with the Tigers.
Conley, a junior who led the nation in scoring as a freshman at VMI, had to sit out until Missouri’s semester break after transferring at the end of the first semester last year.
Missouri had been anticipating the arrival of Conley as another scoring threat in an already potent lineup. Conley averaged 29.3 points and 8.0 rebounds at VMI his freshman year, then averaged 22.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in 10 games last season.
“It felt good to finally get out there,” Conley said. “I’ve been holding it in for a year now, so it’s finally good to get out there with my team and make some plays.”
He and Pulley, who sat out the team’s first four games while school officials reviewed his academic records, helped Missouri rebuild its lead after Greensboro pulled within 61-57 just after halftime. Conley had 10 points, including two dunks, and Pulley added a driving layup as the Tigers took a 78-67 lead.
During the run, Conley put back a missed dunk by Paulding and completed the three-point play, then slammed down an alley-oop pass from Paulding on the Tigers’ next possession. He later added a 3-pointer and a two-handed pump jam after Josh Kroenke made a steal and a baseball pass to a waiting Conley.
Missouri fans came to their feet after Pulley knifed through the lane to restore the double-digit lead. Pulley had five points and two assists with one turnover in 11 minutes. He was a steadying hand for the Tigers, whose other two point guards combined for nine turnovers.
“I felt like when I went back in in the second half, we made a great run and stretched the game out,” Pulley said. “I felt like I had a little contribution.”
Missouri topped 100 points for the first time since Dec. 6, 2001, against Southern. Coach Quin Snyder said the team was still developing and he had some concerns about defense, communication and responding to adversity.
“When we make a mistake, it takes us two possessions to recover,” Snyder said. “If there’s a foul that you disagree with or a turnover or a missed shot, we can’t be talking to the ref, going ‘Geez, I missed my free throw,’ or yelling at somebody when the other team is going the other direction.”
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