Auburn fans were ready for Earnest Ross’ return.
The blue-and-orange-clad fans inside Auburn Arena on Saturday afternoon booed when Ross, who played two seasons at Auburn before transferring to Missouri, touched the ball. Chants of “Auburn reject” descended from the crowd when Ross attempted free throws.
But Ross was ready for the return to his former home arena, too.
Unfazed by the crowd’s heckling, Ross went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the game’s final 1:35, capping a 16-point performance and sealing a 70-68 victory for No. 21 Missouri.
"To come out and play my old school on the road, it was a great feeling," Ross said.
Ross finished the game a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line and made two of the team’s five three-point shots.
"He was more focused," Jordan Clarkson said about Ross. "You could see it in his eyes that he was ready to play today on the defensive and offensive end. He finished the game out for us."
"That's what a senior's supposed to do, and he did it," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "Obviously Earnest spent two years (at Auburn), two really good years, and he has nothing but good things to say about Auburn. We're just glad we were able to do the things we needed to do to win the game."
Missouri’s win wasn’t without controversy, though.
Torren Jones hauled in a missed Auburn free throw with 2.1 seconds remaining and the Tigers leading by two. But Jones’ foot was on the baseline, so Auburn got the ball back. Jabari Brown gathered Auburn's errant inbounds pass and carried the ball with him out of bounds with roughly one second still on the clock. But Brown wasn’t whistled for traveling or going out of bounds and the officials left the court, ending the game without reviewing the play.
The controversial no-call concluded a mostly sloppy, foul-laden game. The teams were whistled for 51 personal fouls and combined for 67 total free-throw shots. Missouri converted 75.6 percent of its attempts, compared with just 53.8 percent for Auburn.
Points away from the free-throw line were hard to come by for Missouri in the first half. Ross hit a three-pointer with 14:33 remaining in the half, but the Tigers didn’t make another jump-shot until Jabari Brown made a three-pointer from well beyond the arc with seven seconds left in the half. While the outside shots weren’t falling, Missouri did convert on a handful of layups.
Despite the dearth of jump-shots, making 15 of 20 first-half free throw attempts allowed the Tigers to hold a 33-30 lead midway through the game.
Haith criticized his team's toughness after a poor rebounding performance in Missouri's loss to Georgia on Wednesday. The Tigers responded by snagging 20 offensive rebounds and out-rebounding Auburn 44-28 overall.
"Torren Jones came in and gave us a real big boost," Clarkson said. "He is a big strong body, and he has a lot of poise as a freshman to come in on the road and get rebounds like he did. Rebounds were the emphasis before the game."
Clarkson led Missouri with 20 points. Joining Clarkson and Ross in double figures was Jabari Brown, who chipped in 15 points. Jones finished with four points and 10 rebounds, both career highs for the freshman. Tony Criswell was dressed on the bench but never played. He was suspended for a violation of team rules, Haith said after the game. Guard KT Harrell led all scorers with 27 points for Auburn.
The win improved Missouri to 13-2 overall this season and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play. The Tigers are now 2-0 in true road games this season, matching the team’s road win total from last season. Missouri continues conference play Thursday night at Vanderbilt.