Behind 53 bench-points, the No. 12 Missouri basketball team doubled up visiting South Carolina State Thursday night, 102-51 in front of 10,613 at Mizzou Arena.
“I thought we came out with the necessary intensity we needed to have on both ends of the court,” coach Frank Haith said. “We played better in transition tonight. The rate we are rebounding the ball defensively, we have to get more transition baskets. We did a great job of getting them tonight.”
Though sophomore guard Jabari Brown made his long-awaited debut for the Tigers (9-1), junior guard Earnest Ross stole the show, breaking out of his scoring slump. Brown, who transferred from Oregon this time last season and sat out 2012’s spring and fall semesters due to transfer rules, scored 12 points in 20 minutes of action on 3-of-9 shooting, while Ross, who came off the bench for the first time this season, tallied a game-high 16 points.
“Whether I’m starting or I’m the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth man off the bench, I’m just here to do what my team needs. As long as we win, I’m happy,” Ross said.
“Jabari is a great overall player – most people see him as a shooter, but he’s a great passer, a great rebounder and great for his size (in the paint),” added Ross. “He’s a great player; he’s not always looking for his shot, he’s looking to get other people involved. On this team we have a lot of guys that can score the ball, so with him being a passer, it makes the team a lot more comfortable and shows how unselfish we are.”
Seventeen seconds into the game junior Phil Pressey’s jumper gave MU the lead for good. A 16-2 run moments later, in which five different Tigers scored, stretched the Missouri lead to 34-16 and set the overall tone of the evening.
The Bulldogs shot just 29 percent on the night and turned the ball over 12 times, eight of those off Tiger steals. Missouri shot a season-best 56.9 percent from the field as five Tigers scored in double figures. MU scored 26 points in transition.
“Getting out in transition and getting the easy buckets is something that motivates the team,” senior guard Keion Bell said. Bell returned to his starting role tonight notched 12 points on 50 percent shooting. “When you see defense turning into offense, that sparks the team and it makes the guys want to play more defense. Seeing the defense turn into transition (opportunities) made us want to play better.”
Missouri will travel from Columbia to St. Louis in five days to face No. 10 Illinois in the annual Bud Light Braggin’ Rights Game.
What many call the nation’s premier non-conference game, this year’s Braggin’ Rights match will be the 32nd installment in the past 33 years. Illinois leads the all-time series, 20-11. Missouri has won the last three meetings, including coach Frank Haith’s first-ever in 2011.
“I had something that was kind of a rivalry (at Pepperdine), but it was nothing to this extent,” said Bell who transferred from Pepperdine in June. “This is a different level of basketball. I’ve heard the guys from previous years talk about the intensity of the game and how big of a game it is, so I’m just looking forward to playing in it this year.”