COLUMBIA – Fresh off final exams week, the Missouri men’s basketball team spent Sunday fighting off rust.
The No. 24 Tigers were sluggish and sloppy for much of the 66-60 win over Western Michigan, their first game since defeating UCLA on Dec. 7.
“We had a whole week layoff,” coach Frank Haith said. “Our execution was poor.”
Missouri committed 14 turnovers and struggled all night to pull away from a Western Michigan team that scored just 35 points in a loss to Northwestern earlier in the month. Missouri defeated Northwestern on Nov. 28.
“We just came out flat,” forward Ryan Rosburg said.
Missouri scored just 24 points in the first 18 minutes, leading 24-22 before riding a 9-0 run into halftime.
Western Michigan never went away, getting to within as little as two points with a little less than 11 minutes to play. Missouri stayed two possessions up because guards Jabari Brown and Wes Clark hit free throws down the stretch.
“I knew they were a capable team,” Haith said. “The way they play, we were going to have to be patient. We were not (patient) early in the ball game.”
While Rosburg and forward Tony Criswell were hesitant to blame the layoff, Haith admitted it definitely played a part in his team’s lackluster play.
“The next game after (final) exams is always tough because you don't have any real rhythm with your practices,” Haith said. “Your practices are at 9 a.m. one day, 6 p.m. the next day, based on exam schedules. Some guys are late to practice; some guys have to leave early for study sessions.”
Haith is looking for his team to get more consistent in its execution, something that he believes is bred in more traditional, consistent practice schedules.
“All of those things factor in,” he said.
Almost every Tiger underwhelmed offensively.
Johnathan Williams III followed his double-double against UCLA with a 0-point, 7-rebound effort on Sunday.
The trio of Brown, Earnest Ross and Jordan Clarkson – which is usually so explosive – combined for just 42 points. Clarkson scored a season-low 12 points and appeared particularly frustrated, at one point walking slowly with both hands on top of his head after having another shot blocked out of bounds.
Western Michigan made it a point to clog the lanes on defense, and in doing so became the first team this season to subdue Clarkson, who entered Sunday leading the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 20.2 points per game.
“We had to bounce them out,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. “That was our only real shot at keeping them in check. If Clarkson lives in the middle third of the floor, there’s going to be issues.”
Missouri has five days to prepare for its next game, which is the Braggin' Rights game Saturday in St. Louis against Illinois. Haith is looking for a smoother performance, one with fewer mistakes.
“When you’re winning ball games at a higher level, you can’t be turning the ball over,” Haith said. “That’s where we had some mishaps."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.