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A major intangible Missouri coach Frank Haith saw develop in last Saturday night’s 68-64 come-from-behind win over North Carolina State was the stabilization of his team as a character-driven squad.
The Tigers lost their first game of the season last Saturday to Illinois after two free throws by Tracy Abrams with five seconds gave the Illini the 65-64 win.Saturday night’s game unfolded similarly. Jabari Brown has become the clutch shooter so far on the Mizzou team. He nailed a three to put the Tigers ahead vs. Illinois before the late Illini free throws. He did that again against the Wolfpack, nailing the triple off the left wing to give Missouri a 63-62 lead with 55 seconds left. The Tigers then never surrendered the lead, converting five of six free throws down the stretch.
“It was a scramble situation and J-3 (Jonathan Williams) passed up a shot and I was trying to be an outlet for him,” said Brown, who shoots 42.3% from behind the arc, “I had space and rose up and shot.”
Missouri had major struggles in the first half. The Tigers couldn’t stop Wolfpack phenom T.J. Warren, who dominated the floor, and they shot only 39.1%. The defining moment came in the second half when Brown and Earnest Ross hit back-to-back threes on consecutive trips, allowing Missouri to draw even at 54-54 with 6:08 to play. It was the first time the game was even since a Williams triple with 11:15 to go int he first half to tie the game at 12.
“I think it was just a motive for us to go out there and play hard,” said Ross, who added 13 boards to his 11 points, “As you saw, the Illinois game came down to the last shot. It was important for us to learn from that, come out here, and play this game and know we were in the same situation. Then, to not make those same mistakes, just gave us the opportunity to go out there and correct those things.”
Missouri had no answer for the ultra-athletic Warren over the first 28 minutes as he had 24 points and 11 rebounds when he hit a jumper off the left baseline to give N.C. State a 46-41 lead with 11:59 remaining. From that point, Warren wouldn’t scratch the scoring column again. The Tigers stepped up their defense, limited his shots, and made the attempts tough.
“We knew going into the ball game that T.J. Warren was going to be a tough matchup and I thought our guys had great character and great toughness, especially after getting down 10 in both halves,” Haith pointed out, “We thought our zone and our man were both good, particularly late in the game. Our game plan was to change defenses.”
As the many faces of the character win showed through for Missouri, winning in a tough atmosphere on the road was a new experience as well since the victories over West Virginia and UCLA had come in the Hearns center and the Illinois game was in St. Louis. Maybe the most overlooked though was the play of new point guard Jordan Clarkson, the Tigers leading scorer.
Clarkson has successfully stepped into Phil Pressey’s shoes this seasoning on the point, as a transfer from Tulsa where he was first team all-CUSA as a sophomore two seasons ago. Averaging steam high 19.9 ppg. and 4.3 apg., Clarkson had struggled with his jumper most of the evening. After Ross and Brown popped those back-to-back threes, Clarkson countered with his own layup, triple, and free throws over the last five minutes to help seal the game. Once again, the San Antonio native proved his prowess as an effective SEC-caliber point guard.
“We just had to keep our composure because we’re a veteran team and have a lot of guys that have played for a while,” said Clarkson, “We needed to keep getting stops on defense and execute offense and not try to get it all back on one play. Everybody did a good job sharing the ball and getting good looks.”
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