COLUMBIA — As Jabari Brown trotted on to Norm Stewart Court for pregame warmups, the only two occupants of the student section at that time shouted “Downtown Jabari Brown” to the Missouri shooting guard.
Brown acknowledged the fans with a wave. Then he made sure that pair, along with the 8,677 others inside Mizzou Arena on Saturday afternoon, left happy, leading No. 25 Missouri with 22 points in a 69-59 victory against Long Beach State for the Tigers.
But he didn't quite live up to the nickname.
Brown passed the 20-point mark for the fifth time this season, leading all scorers with 22 points. But Brown attempted only four three-pointers, making just one. Instead of making his impact from beyond the three-point line, Brown was aggressive driving to the basket and felt comfortable with his pull-up jump shot. So much for "Downtown" Jabari Brown on Saturday.
But the performance was just the latest evidence in Brown’s growth.
“He’s come a long way,” coach Frank Haith said. “He understands the game. He’s become a, well, all-around player.”
Brown arrived at Missouri as an outside shooter, but the Tigers coaching staff has worked with Brown on his mid-range game, trying to build his confidence with it if he isn’t driving the lane or shooting from three-point range with success. Brown’s improvements were on display Saturday.
“He had a couple pull-up jumpshots tonight, too, where he shot-faked because people are going to run him right off the line,” Haith said. “He has grown tremendously over the last two years.”
The win gave Missouri a 12-1 record in nonconference play, which is now over. With the team’s lone blemish coming in St. Louis against Illinois, Saturday’s victory cemented the program’s eighth consecutive perfect record at Mizzou Arena during nonconference play. The Tigers have now recorded 81 consecutive wins at home versus nonconference opponents, a streak dating to the end of the 2005-06 season. The Tigers have won 26 consecutive home games overall.
Long Beach State made extending those streaks difficult, though.
Behind a pair of early three-point attempts from UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb, Long Beach State took an early lead. The 49ers led 23-16 with 7:49 remaining in the half and were dominating rebounds. Through that point, Brown was the lone Tiger with more than one field goal. However, ensuing baskets by each of Missouri’s other four starters gave the Tigers their first lead with 4:22 remaining in the half.
The shots continued to fall for Missouri, who scored 21 points in the half’s final 7:49 to take a 37-34 lead, the team’s largest of the half, into the break.
On a 21-8 run and leading by 13 with 12:59 to play, it appeared Missouri's lead was secure, but Long Beach State made a comeback, pulling within two points with five minutes left. But in the game's final minutes, the Tigers stifled the 49ers defensively, allowing just four more points, ensuring the win.
Jordan Clarkson (11 points) and Earnest Ross (16 points) joined Brown in double figures. It was Clarkson’s lowest point total of the season. Ryan Rosburg contributed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Rosburg made no excuses for the team's slow start.
“I think we just started off sluggish today, but I think we turned it on when we needed to,” Rosburg said.
Long Beach State is now 4-10, but the 49ers had won three consecutive games. That streak coincided with the addition of Lamb, who has led the team in scoring since becoming eligible.
An Oakland, Calif., native, Brown was familiar with the 49ers’ program. He wasn’t surprised by the competitiveness of Saturday’s game.
“We weren’t underestimating them at all. We knew we were going to get their best punch,” Brown said.
“We’ve been a team that when the bell needed to be answered, we answered. In a pressure situation, we need to make a play, we execute, we do a great job,” Haith said. “But when we get a lead, we’re not quite there yet in terms of taking a possession off. That’s the next stage for us to be a really good basketball team. When you have the lead, on both ends of the court, you’ve got to value that possession, I don’t know if we’re quite there yet consistently.”
But with conference play beginning Wednesday against Georgia, Haith is happy with where his team stands.
“We’re two free throws away from being 13-0, so I think we’re in good shape, a stop away from being 13-0,” Haith said. “I think we’ve played a really good schedule … I like where we’re at right now.”