COLUMBIA – Having accounted for 70.3 percent of Missouri basketball’s points this season, the trio of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross has carried the Tigers.
This is not quite breaking news, nor should it come as a surprise that the trio’s season-low output of 23 combined points in a loss last Saturday to Tennessee coincided with the team’s lowest scoring total of the season.
With the loss, realistic hopes of securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament disappeared along with the trio’s offensive output in Knoxville, Tenn. If Missouri is going to defy the odds and win this week’s SEC Tournament in Atlanta, the Tigers’ big three will have to return to their usual form and lead the way.
“We rely on those guys’ production,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “I don’t think we win many games with those guys shooting that way, so we’re going to need those guys to shoot better, but I don’t think we need to resort to just shooting 3-point shots.”
Haith believes there hasn’t been much cohesiveness or ball flow with the Tigers’ offense lately — which has been quite evident. His team has settled for outside shots that, of late, have not often gone in the hoop. It’s a habit Haith hopes to snap his team out of before Thursday afternoon’s second round matchup against Texas A&M (the Tigers are one of 10 teams with a first-round bye).
“We had moments over the year when we were struggling, that we relied on being in attack mode and getting to the free-throw line,” Haith said. “I think that’s where we’ve got to get back to when we’re not shooting the ball well.”
And when the shots aren’t falling, Haith would like to see his team’s defensive effort not lag. It’s something the coach believes his team, like many others, has struggled with this season.
“The way they play is based on how well they’re playing offensively, and you cannot win games likes that,” Haith said. “There are going to be nights when you’re not shooting the ball well. You still got to have a grind-it-out mentality and guard, you’ve got to defend, and that’s something we haven’t been consistent with.”
Haith said his team’s first matchup against Texas A&M was an instance where the defensive intensity was present despite offensive struggles. The Tigers defeated the Aggies 57-56 in a sloppy, comeback victory Wednesday on senior night. Brown, Clarkson and Ross combined for 41 of the team’s 57 points, which was the team’s lowest output of the season until its next game, Saturday’s debacle at Tennessee.
Fatigue could be an issue.
After playing just two games his freshman year at Oregon, Brown missed the first half of last season after sitting out because of the NCAA transfer rules and has averaged a team-high 36.9 minutes per game this season. Clarkson, who sat out last season after transferring from Tulsa, is averaging 34.7 minutes per game, the highest total of his career.
“I’ve asked them,” Haith said about fatigue. “Do they always tell me the truth? I don’t know, they say they’re fine.
“The first thing that’ll come to your mind when you see guys not shooting the ball late (in the season) is their legs, so I’ve asked those guys, and they both say they feel good and that’s all I can go by.”
Both players said they feel OK.
“I’m fine physically, just getting my rest when I need it," Clarkson said. “I’m fine.”
Added Brown: “I don’t feel fatigued, I don’t think it’s the problem, but it could be. But I feel like I’m ready for the SEC Tournament, it’s not in the back of my mind or anything like that.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.