Senior guard scores 25 points, 14 in the second half, to avoid monumental upset.
Earnest Ross made his first appearance at Mizzou Arena on Friday on the video board when he reprised his primal scream that endeared him to fans in 2012.
Then the senior guard put the Tigers on the board with reverse layup, plus the foul to open the game, finishing with a resounding stomp and fist pump.
But it was Ross’ three pointers — all four of them coming in the second half — and rebounding — all nine of them — that led Missouri down the stretch in a tight 92-79 exhibition win over Division II Central Missouri in front of 7,927 in Columbia.
“He made some big shots,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “We needed him.”
Ross connected from three with just under 10 minutes to play to cut the Mule lead to five, then against to tie the game at 65 a minute later.
His final two treys came in a 16-3 Tiger run that put Missouri up 11.
“If we were going down, we were going down in flames,” Central Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “We were gonna make them shoot the three.”
That strategy held up in the game’s first 33 minutes until a trey from junior guard Jabari Brown put the Tigers ahead 70-69. UCM led by two at the half and held Missouri to 44 percent shooting in period.
MU’s larger front line proved ineffective. Reserve point guard Wes Clark was the only Tiger shorter than 6-foot-5-inches.
UCM, meanwhile, countered with a smaller lineup and ironically won the battle inside, outscoring Missouri 44-34 in the paint. Haith tried forwards Keanau Post, Ryan Rosburg, Tony Criswell and Stefan Jankovic to see if any could match up against the speedy Mules, but Central Missouri’s sleight of hand in the block and quickness on the perimeter forced Missouri into foul trouble early. The Mules shot in the bonus with 13:44 remaining in the first half.
“We’re a big team, but when you play a team who’s small . . . it’s hard to play against those guys,” Haith said. “So we were able to adjust and go smaller to match up against a team which we’ll probably play a couple of those games early on. We’ll play another team that’s gonna be like that, spread you out and play small and we’ve gotta be able to adjust. I like our team being able to do that.”
Haith’s adjustment was sending Ross, who scored a game-high 25 points, to the power forward slot and bumping freshman Johnathan Williams III to center. There, Ross worked in concert with Brown to spot up for his final threes against a favorable defensive match up.
“Earnest is a good shooter, so when we move him to the four we have a pick and pop and to his credit, he hit those big shots,” Brown said.