COLUMBIA — It was the first of the night, the first of the preseason, the first in the SEC.
Earnest Ross paused for a brief moment behind the 3-point line, peering through the defender’s hand, watching his first shot in over a year, first in a Missouri uniform, swish through the net.
The crowd erupted in cheers, while Ross, a junior transfer from Auburn, watched with confidence, as if this was how his highly anticipated first game was supposed to begin.
“It got me going,” Ross said. “Just being out there to play my first college game in front of Mizzou, it was a great experience for me. It was a great feeling.”
Just four minutes later, Ross had already taken his second and third shots, two more 3-pointers, six more points.
“He can shoot for a guy his size, and, with his physique, you wouldn’t know that he could have that kind of touch,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said about the 6-foot-5 guard. “He can shoot the ball. He’s worked really hard at it too.”
For his fourth shot, Ross aggressively drove the lane, lowering his shoulder, banking a layup off the backboard. His fifth shot was a buzzer beater to finish the first half, a contested 3-pointer that was nearly blocked by two defenders.
“Lucky,” Haith said following the game, laughing. “He made a couple of contested shots, and that last one was lucky.”
Ross started off the night 5-for-5 against Northwest Missouri State, finishing 8-for-13 with 22 points and six 3-pointers in route to Missouri’s first preseason win, a 91-58 victory.
He sat out more than a year after transferring from Auburn, where he led the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game as a sophomore.
“This year I’ve been off, I’ve really been working on my 3-point shot and my defense,” Ross said. “That’s what I take pride in. In this offense, I’m going to get a lot of open shots just with Phil (Pressey) being able to create in the lane. So, being able to knock down open shots is going to be important for this team, and it’s something I take pride in.”
Haith sounds like he will be counting on Ross.
“Earnest is a very capable scorer, he obviously took good shots,” Haith said. “We need him to get his feet underneath him and be ready to score when he’s open, and not have to force things. That’s where he’s sometimes caught in between. But you know, when you’re a scorer, you do take some tough shots.”
Other top performers for the Tigers included senior Pepperdine transfer Keion Bell, who scored 20 points, and Pressey, who had 11 assists.
Missouri's next preseason game is against Missouri Southern at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mizzou Arena.