COLUMBIA — Interim coach Tim Fuller walked out of his postgame press conference Monday night with a smile of relief on his face and an arm around Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden.
He is returning the Missouri basketball team back to Frank Haith with an undefeated record.
That was Fuller's mission all along, and he completed it as Missouri defeated IUPUI 78-64 Monday in the last of his five-game stint at the helm.
"I'll finally be able to sleep," Fuller said. "I saw just how challenging coach Haith's job really is."
Fuller described his 18-day tenure as head coach as a "house-sitting" or "babysitting" position. The win over IUPUI (Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis) moved Missouri to 5-0. It guaranteed that Fuller did just as a good house-sitter or babysitter does — he didn't let anyone wreck the joint.
Haith takes over again Tuesday after serving his NCAA suspension.
"Now that he (Haith) comes back and everything is intact, he'll be able to put his stamp on it and help us move forward to the place we need to go," Fuller said.
The Tigers never trailed against IUPUI, opening the game on an 11-2 run that saw four Missouri players score before IUPUI converted a basket.
Jabari Brown led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, followed by Jordan Clarkson, who scored 22 points. Freshman Johnathan Williams III recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"He's our most improved player from the day he stepped on campus," Fuller said of Williams III. "This is his first, it won't be his last double-double."
It wasn't the first time Clarkson and Brown both scored in double figures. The pair has accomplished that feat in all five Missouri games and are usually accompanied by guard Earnest Ross in the scoring leaders column. But Ross went 2-for-13 from the field Monday, scoring nine points.
Missouri easily overcame that in the first half, building a 15-point lead early. But in the second half, the Tigers production waned, and IUPUI went on a 17-12 run over eight minutes to pull within seven points with nine minutes to play. In what has become a routine of sorts, Missouri needed a second-half run, just like it did against Southern Illinois, Hawaii and Gardner-Webb.
Eight consecutive Tiger points from Clarkson allowed Missouri to pull away. Six of those points came from 3-pointers, which Missouri excelled at two nights after shooting 2-for-14 from deep against Gardner-Webb on Saturday. Missouri shot 8-for-19 (42 percent) from 3-point range Monday, led by Brown's 5-for-8 shooting.
"We came here to be scorers and to make plays for others," Brown said. "That happens sometimes, games are going to be different. We have confidence in ourselves as shooters."
Clarkson noted that the reason Missouri has been so reliant on the 3-pointer is because smaller opponents have often opted to play zone defense against the Tigers. IUPUI was no different.
"We've really gotten a chance to work on our zone offense," Clarkson said, where shooting is still important, even in a year when new foul rules reward driving to the basket. "With the new defenses we have seen, I think we've done a good job."
Clarkson and Brown both agreed that Fuller did a good job also. When Clarkson and Brown left the press conference, Fuller patted them on the back, just like he would do to Alden minutes later. With Thanksgiving coming soon, that's who Fuller said he was thankful for — the players, coaches and administrators of MU Athletics.
"Mike Alden and Coach Haith, giving me the opportunity to step up, being the youngest assistant on the staff, with no coaching experience, it showed a lot of faith in what they think of me," Fuller said. "I'm thankful for the level of support I have here at the University of Missouri and the family connection I have with Coach Haith. That's something — I don't have words to describe it."
Note: The student cheering section The Antlers was ejected from Mizzou Arena for a second consecutive game. The group was ejected with 14 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second half after chanting "Pelvic thrust, churn the butter, step to the left, cop-a-feel."
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.