COLUMBIA – During the past few practices, Missouri coach Frank Haith highlighted the Tigers’ lack of ball movement during film sessions with his team, he said.
It’s easy to see why Haith pinpointed ball movement as a problem. Missouri was credited with just 11 assists in its last two games and ranked 325th nationally in assists, averaging 10.3 per game — more than 5.5 fewer than SEC-leading Arkansas. That total had been even worse in Southeastern Conference play, where the Tigers had averaged just 8.4 assists per game and had finished with more turnovers than assists in four of its first five conference tilts.
Southeastern Louisiana: 14 assists
Southern Illinois: 10 assists
Hawaii: 16 assists
Gardner-Webb: 11 assists
IUPUI: 12 assists
Northwestern: 8 assists
Nevada: 8 assists
West Virginia: 13 assists
UCLA: 12 assists
Western Michigan: 10 assists
Illinois: 13 assists
at North Carolina State: 9 assists
Long Beach State: 8 assists
Georgia: 10 assists
at Auburn: 9 assists
at Vanderbilt: 12 assists
Alabama: 4 assists
at LSU: 7 assists
South Carolina: 18 assists
So, after analyzing the team’s lack of flow offensively, Haith emphasized increased ball movement for Saturday's game against South Carolina.
His players got the memo.
A season-high 18 assists later, Missouri defeated South Carolina 82-74 in front of a season-high attendance of 12,033 inside Mizzou Arena.
“We just put an emphasis on being a good teammate and sharing the ball and making the right play, finding the open guys, and I think we executed that today,” said junior point guard Jordan Clarkson, who had two assists, including a pretty behind-the-back pass that led to a Ryan Rosburg dunk in the second half.
Everything seemed to be humming offensively for Missouri on Saturday, which makes you wonder why this performance hasn't been the norm. For one, the Tigers were playing the league's second-worst defense.
Otherwise, Haith has an opinion on what's made Missouri so assist-allergic in the past.
“They become watchers, I want to get them some lounge chairs so they can watch what’s going on,” Haith said. “It’s not just the passers’ willingness to pass; it’s also the guys moving without the ball. They got to continue to move and then call for the ball. I saw a bunch of that today. We still had some plays that we could’ve made, but even with that said, we still were so much better today than we have been.”
The improvements were evident from the team’s first possession of the game.
Power forward Johnathan Williams III had the ball beneath the basket, surrounded by South Carolina defenders. Rather than force a heavily contested shot, Williams passed to a wide-open Earnest Ross in the corner, who made the uncontested shot.
While that play went from the paint outside to the perimeter, Missouri’s increased efficiency moving the ball into the post from beyond the perimeter is what enabled the offense to operate so effectively.
High-scoring guards Jabari Brown, Clarkson and Ross were aggressivedriving to the hoop but weren’t hesitant to pass to Rosburg or Williams. Against a small SEC frontcourt, the Missouri post players made close-range shots more effectively than in recent games. The Tigers finished with 34 points in the paint. Rosburg scored eight points, a personal high in conference play.
“We know teams are going to converge on us while we’re driving, so we just got to make the plays to the big guys and they got to finish,” Clarkson said. “I think they did a good job of that today.”
Six different Tigers recorded at least one assist. But nobody had more helpers than Brown, who finished with a career-high six.
Brown was an outside shooter when he transferred from Oregon to Missouri but developed into an all-around player this season. He’s more aggressive driving to the basket, he has improved his mid-range shot, and he has become a team leader. And Saturday, the improvements in his game proved beneficial for his teammates.
“When it comes down to it, he’s not only making plays for himself; he’s making plays for others,” Haith said.
Brown credited his performance to Haith’s film sessions earlier in the week.
“Sometimes you don’t really notice it when you’re in the game, so that’s why film is important, just seeing times when two guys come to you and you’re kind of feeling it, and find the next open guy,” Brown said. “I feel that’s what I was just trying to do. I want to see everybody get involved and play well.”