Haith needs top scorers to right Tigers' ship

Thursday, February 27, 2014 | 9:10 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA – A day after Missouri’s worst loss of the season and back in chilly Columbia, Frank Haith sat down with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown to relive Tuesday’s thrashing at the hands of Georgia. 

Haith wanted to rehash with his best players exactly what went wrong on a day the Tigers least needed it to, as a way of making sure it doesn’t happen again. With just three games left before the conference tournament, Missouri (19-9, 7-8 Southeastern Conference) is running out of opportunities to prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament. 

So the three watched the tape. Team-wide film sessions of games are common. Private sitdowns like this one, not so much. 

“Some of our shots were pretty early in the shot clock, stuff like that,” Clarkson said. “He told us not to press.”

A quick glance at Tuesday’s stat sheet wouldn’t suggest that Clarkson and Brown were off their usually stellar games. Both scored 17 points on lower-than-usual, but not apocalyptic, shooting nights.

But when two players carry so much scoring responsibility day after day, they are the ones that find themselves in charge of smoothing out any offense-wide hiccups. 

Especially when that includes being beaten down the floor repeatedly and outworked in transition, like they were against Georgia. A main root of both those problems, Haith said, was shot selection. 

“I sensed that during the Georgia game, both those guys were pressing,” Haith said. “It's because they want it so bad. Those guys want to make the NCAA Tournament. I saw things out of those guys, shots they haven’t taken all year consistently, contested shots, forcing the issue a little bit.

"I love them for it. We just have to continue to get them to understand to let the game come to them, like they’ve been doing all year.”

It’s been said before, but it's more pertinent now than ever: The Tigers really cannot afford another loss. Which means Haith really cannot afford his leading scorers to still be pressing against Mississippi State, who brings a 3-12 conference record and the No. 218 RPI to Columbia on Saturday at 12:47 p.m.

“We knew what we were getting into early in the season,” Clarkson said of the responsibility. “Being consistent, that’s the biggest thing.”

While Haith has consistently denied that tournament talk enters the locker room, his players were a little more revealing Thursday.

"That was one of our main goals coming into this year, and one of my main goals coming in as a transfer — to make it to the tournament,” Clarkson said. “(If we don’t make it), I feel like it's a disappointment.”

“You just have to keep at it,” Clarkson added. 

But after two consecutive losses in what looked like winable games, Missouri’s NCAA Tournament destiny has been taken out of its control. There is no telling if wins against Mississippi State, then Texas A&M and Tennessee will be enough to propel them into the field of 68 without a run through the SEC Tournament in Atlanta. 

“I ain’t no Joe Lunardi,” Brown said. “But I know winning these last three games will help.”

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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