Mizzou wins final game before Big 12 season

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Making the toughest shots, and the easiest ones, helped Missouri win its final tuneup before Big 12 play.

Jason Conley had 12 points and 10 rebounds and the Tigers were 10-for-22 from 3-point range in a 64-51 victory over American on Tuesday night, their most production from long range since going 12-for-23 in a victory over Houston on Nov. 16. Every bit as important was their 18-for-23 showing at the free-throw line, considering a poor showing in the last game.

Since going 7-for-17 in a victory over Gonzaga on Dec. 30, and considering Missouri's mediocre 64-percent efficiency on the season, there's been increased emphasis on free throws in practice.

''We have a free-throw challenge every day,'' guard Thomas Gardner said. ''We have seeds one through 12 and we try to move up the ladder every day. People are really starting to take it seriously, and that's starting to carry over into games.''

Linas Kleiza, who's in first place in the free-throw competition, was 5-for-7 from the line for his only points in an otherwise frustrating game. Jason Horton and Marshall Brown each were 4-for-4.

''We've been trying to shoot different types of free throws, shooting them in scrimmages, shooting them as a team, shooting them competitively,'' coach Quin Snyder said. ''We're just shooting a lot of them.''

Gardner hit three 3-pointers and Conley and Horton each had two. The long-range accuracy helped Missouri compensate for 8-for-31 shooting inside the line.

Conley, a senior, earned his second straight double-double and the second of his career. He produced on the other end of the floor, too, helping out a defense that held American to 35-percent shooting.

Conley's follow-up to a 16-point, 13-rebound effort against Gonzaga helped compensate for Kleiza's poor offensive showing. He led the nation with a 29-point average as a freshman at VMI and is in his second season at Missouri since transferring.

''When I first got here I thought my role was to score, score, score,'' Conley said. ''I can do more things, I think, with the help of my teammates. I can do all of those little plays on the floor and just get boards for the team.''

Gardner added 14 points and Jason Horton scored all but two of his career-best 12 points in the first half to get the Tigers off to a good start.

Missouri (8-5) has won four in a row at the new 15,000-seat Mizzou Arena heading into Saturday's Big 12 opener against Iowa State. A crowd of 6,315, the lowest of the season, was held down by the threat of freezing rain, and Snyder thought the empty seats affected his players.

''It's nasty outside and they're closing stuff down and you knew you weren't going to have the electricity,'' Snyder said. ''It's got to be about how you play and not what's going on around you.''

Andre Ingram had 19 points for American (6-5), which has lost three of four and opens Patriot League play on Saturday at home against Lehigh. Jason Thomas added 12 points and Linas Lekavicius had 11.

Ingram, who leads American with a 17-point average, was held to six points in the second half. He played all 40 minutes.

''In the first half, he was the one guy that had the right mind-set in terms of attacking,'' coach Jeff Jones said. ''I played him the whole way and that was probably asking too much against that kind of pressure.

''He had some awfully good looks at the basket that we normally expect him to knock down.''

Missouri led by as many as 16 points in the second half, although American twice shaved the deficit to six. The Tigers went more than five minutes between baskets to allow the Eagles back into the game.

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