COLUMBIA – Earnest Ross has the ability to bring a crowd to his feet when he rises from his.
Ross started all the standing at Mizzou Arena on Saturday afternoon with a breakaway dunk early in the second half, and his versatile play over the last 20 minutes was the main reason it continued to the final buzzer, with Missouri topping No. 17 UCLA 80-71.
All he needed was a bounce. Or two. First it was the bounce in his step that elevated his hands to the rim for the one-handed slam that brought Missouri, who trailed by as many 13 in the first half, within six points.
Then it was the bounce his 3-point shot took off the front rim two minutes later. It bounced up, not out, then hung in the air before plopping through the net like a raindrop into a bucket to put the Tigers ahead 51-50.
Just a bounce, and when it fell, everything else started falling too.
“Once I got hot, it was pretty cool,” Ross said with a smirk.
Ross scored just five points in the first half. But after halftime, he caught fire. The senior scored 15 points on four 3-pointers, each shot bigger than the next. One of those threes inched Missouri closer, two more gave the Tigers a lead, and another sealed the victory.
“As I continue to shoot and see shots go in, it makes the basket get a little bigger,” Ross said. “I’m in a good groove and I continue to keep shooting.”
Both Missouri head coach Frank Haith and assistant coach Tim Fuller have tried this season to limit Ross‘ outside shooting in favor of drives that result with him on the free throw line. His size and speed make him a prime candidate to take advantage of the new NCAA fouling rules that benefit offensive players.
But when he shoots like he did Saturday, Haith isn’t saying anything.
“I would tell him to keep on shooting if he’s open,” Haith said. “We had a great offense in the second half. We played inside-out, we played with ball movement. When you take shots off of that, those are great shots for me.”
Both Missouri and UCLA run offenses centered around driving and dishing to the outside, where tall, physical guards have the green light to shoot. Missouri beat UCLA at its own game, shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range. UCLA shot just 25 percent from 3-point range, thanks to an 0-for-8 second-half performance.
In any game with that many low-percentage shots, rebounding becomes paramount. Missouri’s win could be attributed as much to its advantage from 3-point range as it can to its winning the rebounding battle. Led by Johnathan Williams III (10 points, 15 rebounds), Missouri out-rebounded UCLA 47-30 despite a significant height disadvantage.
“This was his first or second game at a high-level type atmosphere,” Haith said of Williams III. “It challenged him to be what I think he’s capable of being.”
Missouri’s big three of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Ross once again combined for the majority of the Tigers' offensive production. The trio took turns dominating, with each going on mini-runs where they carried the load. Throughout the contest, though, all three fed off one another’s ability to get open and hit shots from the outside.
“It's those three,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “You have to pay so much attention to them. When one is not doing it, the other two are.”
Jordan Clarkson dominated for Missouri early on, scoring 17 points in a first half that ended with UCLA leading 43-35. Ross came alive in the second half to finish with 20 points. Jabari Brown was consistently solid and tied UCLA’s Jordan Adams for a game-high 22 points.
The victory marked Missouri’s 79th consecutive win against a non-conference opponent at home. Missouri takes on Western Michigan next on Dec. 15 at Mizzou Arena.