Jankovic shines for Missouri men's basketball in exhibition victory

Sunday, November 4, 2012 | 7:25 p.m. CST; updated 7:30 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 8, 2012
The Missouri men's basketball team beat Missouri Southern by 26 points Sunday in a preseason game.

COLUMBIA — Stefan Jankovic is a thorough shooter at practice.

The 6-foot-11 forward tries to sharpen all his offensive skills. He works on mid-range shots, his 3-point shots, hook shots, spot-up shots and even takes shots from outside the court where the stands meet the floor of Norm Stewart Court.

During one practice, Dave Reiter, the team's sports information director, jokingly challenged Jankovic to make a shot from near half court. Jankovic looked at him, then the distant hoop and nailed the shot effortlessly.

All that practice paid off in Sunday's 86-60 exhibition victory over Missouri Southern. Jankovic led the team with 20 points filling in for flu-ridden senior guard Keion Bell. The freshman forward only had one practice to learn his new role.

Although he came off the bench early in the first half, he looked like a starter and played 25 minutes. With the calm poise of an upperclassman Jankovic missed only one of the four 3-pointers he attempted from beyond the arc.

It appeared that he shook off his jitters from the previous exhibition game. Jankovic didn't score in nine minutes of play during that game in a 91-58 win against Northwest Missouri State.

On one play Sunday, Jankovic set himself up from beyond the 3-point arc, but instead of a finesse shot, he dashed through Missouri Southern's defense to the basket for a quick layup.

Jankovic wasn't perfect though. His lack of experience at the new position showed at times.

"I was kinda still lost," Jankovic said. "Coach (Frank) Haith had to walk me through some of the plays, but I think I did all right."

At one point during the first half, Jankovic looked lost, wandering around the wing during an inbounds play. Senior Laurence Bowers walked up to him and nudged him into the proper position.

Overall though, Jankovic was a standout in a sluggish first half for Missouri, leading the team with 12 points at the break.

The game showed some of the Tigers' weak spots. Junior guard Phil Pressey finished with five turnovers, and the team had more turnovers than Missouri Southern. Lions coach Robert Corn had to look twice at his box score when the stat came up during the postgame press conference.

Jankovic's highlight play came in the second half when former prep school teammate Negus Webster-Chan found him unguarded on a cut toward the basket and skipped him the ball.

Jankovic decided to show his athleticism and went in for a dunk. The crowd roared in elation watching Jankovic go airborne, and blaring music during the next stoppage of play sent the fans into a frenzy.

Webster-Chan, who started the game, had a big smile and nothing but praise for his long-time friend.

"He did great. He wanted to play. He was excited to get on the floor and play," Webster-Chan said. "When I see him cutting, I knew he wanted to dunk. Stef can dunk like that, so I just hit him on the bounce pass."

Haith also praised Jankovic, complimenting his shooting, perimeter defense and his ability to use his height to see past his defenders. But Haith was hesitant to comment on Jankovic's future playing time.

"You gotta look at the big picture with our team. There's no Jabari (Brown) and Mike Dixon and Keion Bell, and all three of those guys are gonna play heavy minutes," Haith said. "He (Jankovic) gives you a luxury, though, because he's one of our better shooters on our team."

If Jankovic keeps practicing his shooting and performs as he did Sunday when he gets an opportunity, he might be much more than a luxury for the Tigers as the season progresses.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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