KANSAS CITY – Almost two years after cutting down the nets after winning the Big 12 conference tournament championship in its final conference game, the Missouri men’s basketball team made its return to what interim coach Tim Fuller called "Mizzou West" on Saturday night.
"Welcome back to Kansas City" was the theme around Kansas City's Power & Light District and inside the Sprint Center. The Sprint Center PA announcer uttered those exact words numerous times during the Tigers' 92-80 victory against Hawaii. So did prerecorded video messages shown on the scoreboard throughout the game from local businessmen, former Missouri and current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel and Kansas City Mayor Sly James.
The officiating crew offered no such hospitality to Jordan Clarkson.
The Tigers' star guard made two shots in the game's first three minutes but was issued a technical foul for taunting after the second basket. The foul was Clarkson's second, relegating him to the bench for the rest of the half.
Clarkson's absence was noticeable.
After 20 minutes, Hawaii looked poised to crash the Missouri-Kansas City reunion party, leading the Tigers 46-45 at the half.
"He was easy to guard that first half, when he was assistant coach," Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said of Clarkson.
Stopping Clarkson wasn't so easy in the second half for the Rainbow Warriors.
Clarkson played intelligently, avoiding any additional fouls. He made jump shots. He drove the lane, finding teammates for open shots. Hawaii defenders could not prevent his penetration into the lane. He was too big, too quick.
"Jordan has a great pace to his game," Fuller said. "He has a good stop-and-go, he has an excellent handle, and he has excellent size, so when he gets to the rim, he can finish the bucket, so he's a hard matchup.”
A "hard matchup" may be putting it lightly, Arnold said.
"I think Jordan Clarkson should probably send a lot of his scholarship money to the new rules committee, because I don’t know how anyone in the country is going to guard him off the bounce," Arnold said. "He's really good, and I think he's going to make a lot of money because of those rules."
Not surprisingly, Clarkson – who finished with 13 points – revealed after the game that's he’s a fan of the new rules.
"I like them a lot, but you have to be more conservative on defense," Clarkson said. "It's kind of tough — your first reaction is to put your hand on somebody … but I feel like the new rules work in our advantage."
Having a more-aggressive-than-usual Earnest Ross worked to Missouri's advantage Saturday night, too.
Fuller calls Ross the team's best athlete. He's faster, stronger, and can jump higher than everyone else on the team, Fuller said. But as of late, he was settling for outside shots far too often.
"I said 'If you shoot another three, I'm taking you out, so drive the ball,'" Fuller said. "Sometimes it has to be that point blank with him. He started driving the ball, and once he saw the ball going through the rim that way, he just continued to do it."
Ross finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists, joining Jabari Brown (game-high 23 points), Clarkson and Tony Criswell as the four Tigers to finish with double-digit points.
The Tigers are now 3-0 on the season. The win won't count towards the team's streak of 75 consecutive non-conference home victories. But it might as well, Fuller said.
"We don't lose at home," he said. "This is our home away from home."