COLUMBIA – Keanau Post ventured into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory inside Mizzou Arena Saturday afternoon — the postgame media room.
Two Missouri players accompany coach Frank Haith to address the media following each Tiger home game. Post, following a career-high 14 points in Missouri’s 85-66 victory against Southeastern Conference cellar dweller Mississippi State (13-16, 3-13), was one of the two players for the first time.
The nerves were evident after the first question, which Post addressed by mumbling away from the microphone, which he had to move closer to him to better project his voice.
“I guess, um, the last few games I’ve been playing well; I think it’s just a buildup from that,” Post said softly. “Our guys did a great job moving the ball (by) passing so I give them a lot of credit for it.”
Was Post’s improved play due to being more comfortable on the court?
“Umm, … I was more comfortable,” Post said.
“He felt more comfortable than he does right now,” Haith joked.
“Well, … yeah,” Post confessed.
Luckily for Missouri (20-9, 8-8), Post, who scored 18 points all season prior to Saturday, was much more confident on Norm Stewart Court than he was in front of the microphone.
Missouri has been waiting all season for the 6-foot-11, 255-pound transfer to show that in-game composure.
Throughout the season, Haith has insisted Post has had success during practice. Although nobody outside the basketball program has been able to watch, the first-year Tiger from Southwestern Illinois Community College had shown flashes of the ability that compelled Missouri to extend a scholarship. The Canadian just hadn’t been able to parlay that success to game action.
That changed in a big way Saturday afternoon, as Post was 6-for-6 from the field and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds.
Post had scored in just three of Missouri’s first 15 SEC matchups.
On the first day of the new month, Post proved there's such a thing as March Madness.
“It’s a steppingstone,” Post said. “But at the end of the day, just put this game behind me and focus on the next game, stay confident and just keep working."
Missouri, which has relied on its veteran guards all season, is desperate for somebody to become a low-post presence as the Tigers play their final two regular season games and then compete in the SEC Tournament — a stretch that will decide their NCAA Tournament fate.
“We all know Keanau has a skill set,” Haith said. “He can do some things probably none of our other post players can do. With him, it’s all about confidence and believing in himself, and he’s gotten so much better at that.”
Collectively, Missouri’s post players performed better against Mississippi State than has been their norm this season.
Johnathan Williams III set the tone early for the Tiger big men. The freshman power forward took three of the Tigers’ first four shots and amassed four points, two blocks and an assist in the game’s first four minutes. Center Ryan Rosburg chipped in six points and four rebounds.
When those two got into foul trouble, Post stepped up. As did freshman power forward Torren Jones, who slammed numerous highlight-reel-worthy dunks en route to an eight-point performance, which tied his career high. Post, Jones, Rosburg and Williams were 15-for-16 combined from the field.
After Tuesday night’s drubbing at Georgia, Haith had a private film session with guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson. Haith urged his star players to trust their teammates more. Twelve assists later — the most Brown and Clarkson have combined for in a game this season — it looks like the message was received.
That improved ball movement allowed Missouri’s post players to uncharacteristically flourish, according to Mississippi State coach Rick Ray.
“Those guys had some easy opportunities because of the penetration by the Missouri guards,” Ray said. “They got a lot of offensive rebounds and putbacks, guys got into the paint. … I think there was actually maybe two legitimate post moves by those guys in the paint.”
Mississippi State was missing its leading scorer, sophomore guard Craig Sword (13.3 ppg), who was attending his grandmother's funeral.
Brown led all scorers with 21 points. Four Missouri players reached double figures. Tigers outside of the Brown, Clarkson and Earnest Ross triumvirate combined for 39 points. Guard Fred Thomas led Mississippi State with 18 points.
Saturday's game wasn’t supposed to be difficult — Mississippi State had lost 10 consecutive games, and only one Bowl Championship Series conference school, Virginia Tech, entered Saturday with a worse Rating Percentage Index ranking than the Bulldogs’ 223rd ranking.
But after two consecutive resume-damaging losses, the Tigers desperately needed to defeat the Bulldogs and not leave any doubts about it. That Post finally contributed made the victory even more satisfying for Haith.
“We all anticipated Keanau being a big-time player for us; he was a JUCO (junior college) All-American, but it happens,” Haith said of Post’s lack of confidence. “I’m proud of Keanau. He’s kept working, he’s kept a positive attitude and we’ve kept coaching him, so I could not be more proud of a young man having some positive things happen because he stayed with it.”