COLUMBIA — Jabari Brown’s hands dropped to his knees and squeezed, forcing a grimace.
The star shooting guard had just missed his third free throw of the game – something he hasn't done in more than two months. The night had been full of those kinds of faces — I-can't-believe-it-eye rolls, frustrated frowns — something Missouri fans aren't used to seeing from Brown.
But Brown, who was averaging 20.5 points per game entering Wednesday, scored just 10 points in the Tigers' 67-64 win over Vanderbilt, tying his lowest output of the season.
Although the performance was surprising, it proved something: The Tigers can actually weather an off-night from Brown and still find a way to win.
“There must have been a solar eclipse tonight or something,” said Jordan Clarkson, who used an 11-for-11 night from the charity stripe to lead all scorers with 21 points. “You rarely see him miss shots that he’s used to taking and making. I think this is just a once-in-a-time game. He’s human like everyone else. He’s going to be his old self again next game.”
Brown wasn't the only one struggling early as the teams went into halftime with Vanderbilt leading 21-20. The typically high-scoring Brown entered intermission with just two points to his name. He finished the game 3-for-11 from the field (matching a season-low shooting percentage) and 1-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line.
“He had some tough moments,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “He pressed a little bit. But all of our guys did.”
Much of that pressing came from the free throw line. All Tigers not named Clarkson combined to shoot just 6-for-16 from the charity stripe, including a string of four consecutive misses in the game’s final minute that gave the Commodores a fighting chance.
That included the miss from Brown, who usually shoots at an 80 percent clip. Brown’s puzzlingly underwhelming performance even left the opposing coach scratching his head.
Commodores coach Kevin Stallings paused for six full seconds after being asked how his team was able to neutralize the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer.
“I just don't think he had a good night,” Stallings finally said. “He never got into a flow. Whether we had something to do with that defensively, I’m not sure. I’m sure there was a little bit. But he just never really got on track. That probably had more to do with him than with us, honestly.”
Despite his uncharacteristically quiet night, Brown still reached double-figures and hit a 3-pointer — something he's done in each of the Tigers' 26 games this season.
Clarkson and Earnest Ross, meanwhile, had productive nights, with Ross' 3-pointer from the right wing putting the Tigers up for good with just more than five minutes to play. Brown actually played a part in that play without touching the ball, as Rod Odom, Ross’ defender, left Ross wide open when he prematurely shifted to defend Brown in the corner.
But with Missouri's leading scorer down for much of the night, the Tigers had to find production from other areas to offset the anomaly.
That came most notably from freshman guard Wes Clark, whose perfect 3-for-3 night from the floor resulted in nine points.
“Clark was the one who came in and hurt us,” Stallings said. “He came in and gave them more than we (could handle). That’s a tough thing to overcome.”
Clark was 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point line but missed two free throws in the final minutes with Missouri up by six and a chance to put the game away.
“We have to learn how to relax and have the game come to us,” said Haith, adding that Brown is usually the best player he has at doing just that. “He had some tough plays, but he came through when we needed him to come through."
Haith needed him to regroup and hit the second free throw after the grimace-inducing miss with 25 seconds left. Brown smoothed out his face and connected on the next try to put the Tigers up by five.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.