Story by Joe Vozzelli
Photos by Karen Mitchell
Phil Pressey (1) and Earnest Ross (33) are all smiles late in the game against South Carolina. Both men hit key 3-point shots in the second half to help secure the 71-65 win at Mizzou Arena.
On a night when Missouri had two stars out of action, Earnest Ross gave the Tigers much needed scoring, despite being a game time decision to play.
Ross injured his back a week ago after he took two hard spills in the Georgia game. Missouri remained without Laurence Bowers, who is rehabbing a sprained right knee, for the fourth straight game.
And Keion Bell sat out to rest a sprained ankle he suffered against Florida last Saturday.
Ross netted a season-high 21 points in Missouri’s 71-65 victory over South Carolina and also might have notched the biggest shot of the game.
With the game tied at 63 and about one minute left in the game, the bulky 6-foot-5 guard Ross hit a 3-point shot to give the Tigers the lead in seesaw second half, where there were seven lead changes. Ross’ 3-pointer accounted for the final lead change of the game.
Two defenders try to steal the ball from point guard Phil Pressey (1).
Senior Laurence Bowers cheers from the bench in the second half as Missouri comes back from a half time deficit. Bowers is sidelined with a sprained knee.
Phil Pressey watches as Jabari Brown (32) and Eric Smith (5) fight for control of the ball.
Frank Haith talks with reporters after Tuesday’s game. Haith is waiting to hear from the NCAA regarding possible sanctions from his time coaching at Miami.
Ross said he wasn’t nervous to take the shot, even though Missouri was 3-for-25 from behind the arc when he released his shot.
“I wasn’t really focused on what I was shooting from three (point range),” he said. “It was just a spur of the moment thing.”
Ross said he felt like he could play against the Gamecocks, even if his coach wasn’t sure.
“It was pretty much a mental thing,” Ross said. “Our trainer got me right yesterday and today. I just did a lot of treatment. And just whether (or not) I was gonna fight through this pain, I was just going to try to help my team.”
Ross did joke about playing with what he called a girdle.
After being urged by his coach, though, the junior guard said he used a back brace and not a girdle during the game.
Ross wasn’t the only guard to have a big game against the Gamecocks.
Sophomore Jabari Brown also stepped up, largely by doing the things his coach has pushed him to do: drive to the basket.
Brown and Missouri had 36 free throw attempts in the game, while the Gamecocks had 17.
Brown pulled down a defensive rebound with eight minutes left in the first half and raced toward the basket. After South Carolina guard Eric Smith fouled him, Brown released the ball, while falling backward, for a layup. Brown’s layup ignited what had been a relatively quiet Missouri crowd for much of the first half.
He finished the game with 17 points, including a three-pointer late in the game to seal Missouri’s victory.
Despite Ross’ season-high in points and Brown’s continued development, Missouri still struggled to score in its fourth game without Bowers, the team’s leading scorer with 16.8 points per game. Missouri entered halftime trailing 35-28.
The No. 22 ranked Tigers needed a 15-0 run during a four-minute stretch in the second half to overcome a lackluster first half, in which they shot 20 percent from the field and were 1-for-14 on 3-point attempts.
Missouri coach Frank Haith said his team’s offensive approach led to its lackluster first half.
“You’re coming off a tough loss at Florida where we really struggle and usually when that happens, everybody wanted to do so well,” he said. “I thought because of that, we took some really quick shots. When you’re playing a team that plays the way they play, that’s what they want you to do.”
Forward Alex Oriakhi pointed to Haith’s halftime speech as one of the reasons for Missouri’s second-half surge.
“He questioned our toughness. He challenged us,” Oriakhi said. “Personally, I wanted to take it on as a challenge to see how I would respond.”
“When we got back in the locker room, we were all kind of down on ourselves,” he said. “Coach Haith came in and gave us a great speech.”
Haith didn’t leave his emotions in the Missouri locker room, though.
After South Carolina stretched its eight-point halftime lead to a game-high 13 points at the beginning of the second half, Haith showed his frustration. He took off his suit jacket and tie, something that may remind Missouri fans of what former coach Mike Anderson used to do.
Haith joked about how he ran out of clothing items to take off.
“I almost took everything off,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of those (games) where you feel like you are going to bust a blood vessel.”
Haith has had reason to fret over this week, especially off the court.
A CBSSports.com report emerged on Monday night that said Missouri’s coach could face NCAA sanctions for “unethical conduct and failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance” during his time as coach at Miami.
Haith has been under scrutiny since a Yahoo! Sports report emerged in August 2011 that said he was involved in a Ponzi scheme by Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. Shapiro was said to have given $10,000 in impermissible benefits to the family of former Hurricanes recruit DeQuan Jones.
Haith said he couldn’t say much about any impending sanctions against him, if there are any at all.
“It’s been a tough 20, 18, 19 months. But it’s a blessing that it’s coming close to an end,” he said. “Obviously, I can’t say a lot about what’s going on. Contrary to what’s being reported, there’s been no letter written of any allegations. Until that happens, I can’t respond.”
Haith told his players before the game that the possible sanctions are just another source of adversity that they’ll have to deal with moving forward.
On the court, Missouri now enters the meat of SEC conference season. The Tigers (14-4, 3-2 SEC) return to action on Saturday when they play Vanderbilt at Mizzou Arena. The game is schedule for 4 p.m. and will air on ESPNU.
Earnest Ross (33) drives to the basket in the first half. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
South Carolina’s Michael Carrera (24) is double-teamed by Earnest Ross (33) and Tony Criswell (3).
Negus Webster-Chan passes the ball from his point gaurd position. Webster Chan had no points in 19 minutes of play.