COLUMBIA – Three seems like all they need.
That's what Missouri fans are learning about their basketball team early this season. After four games, including two exhibitions, a three-headed scoring monster has emerged for the Tigers in guards Jordan Clarkson, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown.
"I trust them, I know they're going to give everything they have and I know they can score the basketball," said interim coach Tim Fuller after Missouri beat Southern Illinois 72-59 on Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. "They are my go-to."
Led by a career-high 31 points from Clarkson, the trio combined to score 59 Missouri points, good for 82 percent of the total Missouri offense. Brown scored 17 and Ross helped with 11. Together they accounted for 79 percent of all Missouri shots.
"Some guys are scorers and some guys have different roles," Fuller said. "We just put the ball in the hands of our best players and they made plays."
Fuller believes that on any given night either Clarkson, Ross or Brown will be his best player. Clarkson was it on Tuesday. The junior scored 17 of his points in the second half in a turnover-free performance that inspired wacky comparisons from opposing coach Barry Hinson.
"He was a ninja-blender, he was in the lane so much tonight," Hinson said. "He was unbelievable."
Missouri had only a one-point lead at halftime, once again having been neutralized by the zone defense of a smaller opponent. But in the second half, Southern Illinois switched to man-to-man, opening up lanes for Clarkson to attack from the top of the key.
"The head coach made the decision to switch defenses right before we went in the locker room," Hinson said, speaking about himself. "I don't know who that guy is, but they should drug test him tomorrow.
"We let Jordan go right down the middle of the lane," he said. "What a stupid idiot."
The penetration forced the Southern Illinois defenders to converge on Clarkson, and when the pressure became too much, he was able to find Brown and Ross (who combined for five 3-pointers) on the outside for jumpers.
“Having a deadly shooter coming off the drive like that, they have to pick either one," Clarkson said. "Its like fire and ice. Either you're going to let us take the layup or Jabari's going to knock down a three."
Clarkson, Ross and Brown have all scored in double figures in three of the Tigers' first four games. The guard-centric approach has fostered questions about the expectations of the Missouri big men, who again played a very limited offensive role against Southern Illinois.
Fuller didn't express concern about the uneven distribution, making it very clear that while he's at the helm, the ball will go where his guards decide.
"We don't have a post player that we're going to ask to score 20 and 10," Fuller said. "We're trying to get that out of all three guys – Ryan (Rosburg), Keanau (Post) and Torren (Jones)."
That trio combined for two points and 13 rebounds on Tuesday. No Tiger besides Clarkson, Brown and Ross scored more than six points.
"Maybe when coach Haith gets back he'll have some different remedy than me," Fuller said. "But I'm going to let these guys ride it out for these next three games. I trust them."
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.