COLUMBIA – Jordan Clarkson does a lot of driving. He does a lot of driving followed by layups and driving followed by jumpers. He does a lot of driving followed by scoring.
Halfway through the second half of Saturday’s game against South Carolina, Clarkson did some driving followed by surprising. He drove to the left side of the paint, spun at the conference logo and found a teammate while looking the other way.
“Finding the open guys,” said Clarkson, whose behind-the-back-bullet-of-a-pass hit Ryan Rosburg wide open on the block. “We have to keep doing it throughout the rest of league play.”
Rosburg finished with authority, ripping at the rim with both hands and posing there for a second, showing a personality and aggressiveness unseen previously from any Missouri big men this season.
Clarkson’s assist was one of one of a season-high 18 Missouri handed out. The more-comprehensive-than-usual offensive attack allowed the Tigers to nullify a 32-point performance by South Carolina guard Brenton Williams and defeat the winless Gamecocks 82-74 at Mizzou Arena.
Missouri's guards penetrated often against a South Carolina lineup that is one of the smallest in the Southeastern Conference and that entered Saturday surrendering 71.1 points per game, second-worst in the league.
“We did the things we needed to do on both ends,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith, whose team opened the game on an 11-0 run and never trailed. “Guys passed up good shots for great shots. We have to continue to grow.”
Jabari Brown led the Tigers with 24 points — the fourth straight game he’s gone for more than 20 — and Clarkson and Earnest Ross added 22 and 14, respectively.
But less expected was the efficiency around the rim of Rosburg and Johnathan Williams III. The pair that averaged just 8.3 points per game combined in Missouri’s three conference losses scored 16 Saturday on a combined 7-for-9 performance highlighted by dunks and a willingness to create on the offensive end from both.
“I thought J3 and Ryan Rosburg were great,” Haith said. “We will take that most nights out of both those guys.”
The front court's involvement correlated directly to Clarkson's and Brown’s willingness to look there, which was more pronounced Saturday than any other time in SEC play this year.
This adjustment was the result of a conscious effort by Haith to steer the offense more and more through the post after losses to larger Louisiana State and match ups with Arkansas and Kentucky looming. Williams and Rosburg combined for just six points against LSU, which beat Missouri on Tuesday by that margin after receiving 49 points from its starting front court.
“We have to continue to work with them and they have to continue to get better,” Haith said. “They have to continue to move and call for the ball. I saw a bunch of that today.”
The post players benefited greatly from the guards' drive-first mentality, capitalizing on high percentage shots off touch passes and dumps.
When Missouri did shoot from long range, it was efficient. The Tigers shot 47.1 percent from distance, led by Brown, who went 4-for-6 from deep.
“He don’t miss,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin. “He don’t miss.”
Though not entirely accurate, Martin’s point is clear. Brown’s scoring assault on the Southeastern Conference continues, as he now has scored 98 points over the past four games on just 50 shots.
“He’s making plays for himself and he’s making plays for others,” Haith said. “He’s on the top of everybody’s scouting report right now.”
That’s exactly the kind of thing that opens up opportunities for Missouri’s less lauded players in the frontcourt. Haith was proud that his team took advantage of those opportunities Saturday and looks for that to continue going forward.
“We were so much better today than we have been,” he said.
Missouri will head next to Arkansas on Tuesday with a 15-4 overall record and a 3-3 mark in SEC play.