COLUMBIA — Earnest Ross nearly jumped off of the bench, quickly running toward the scorer's table.
It’s been almost two years, and he was ready to go.
He checked into the game with 16:29 remaining in the first half, the Missouri transfer smiling all along, finally getting his chance to face his former school, teammates and friends.
“It was kind of a personal thing when I stepped on to the court,” Ross said. “I know most of those guys so, more like a friendly rivalry.”
A minute later, he made his first basket, a three-pointer that sent his mother into a joyous fit, high-fiving anyone within a four-foot radius, pumping her fists in the crowd.
She traveled all the way from North Carolina to see her son play against Auburn, and he didn’t disappoint. Ross finished the game with a season high 23 points, helping his new team, the No. 17-ranked Missouri Tigers (16-5, 5-3 in SEC) to a 91-77 win.
He shot 8-12 in the game, and 5-6 from behind the three-point arc. He added three steals and 30 minutes of consistent play from the bench, having fun the entire time.
Nobody on the Missouri team was surprised by Ross' extra spark of energy. Everyone knew that he was excited for this game.
“Normally it doesn’t happen, because you can’t transfer within a league,” coach Frank Haith said. “(I told him to) just be able to go out and play your game and not let anything distract you.”
Sure there was trash talking and joking during the game, even leading to a technical on Ross because “the refs thought it was more than what it was,” but the Missouri guard could not have handled the rare opportunity to face his former team better.
“If I played UConn, I’d feel the same way,” said fellow transfer Alex Oriakhi, who saw all week just how excited his roommate was to face Auburn. “There’s probably no greater feeling to play good against your former team.”
While Ross was at Auburn, he led the team in scoring with 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in only his sophomore season. He transferred to Missouri because he didn’t think Auburn was the right fit.
So far, Ross is averaging 10.7 points per game in his first season in a different Tiger uniform, sometimes starting and sometimes coming off of the bench.
At times he has struggled, especially when his team plays poorly. In Missouri’s five losses, he averages only 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds compared to his 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in the 16 wins.
The more consistent his play is, the better Missouri seems to play.
Following the game, Ross shook hands with his former school teammates and friends and looked up in to the crowd to swap a smile with his mother.
“I flew all the way here," Toy Ross said. "And I told him before. You better have a good game.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.