When Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson compared Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson’s driving ability to the best blender on the market, it was an odd — but fitting — comparison.
“He was a Ninja Blender, he was in the lane so much tonight,” Hinson said. “It was unbelievable. He just kicked our ass. Every time we came out on him, he just went around us.”
Hinson said SIU’s game plan was to let Clarkson shoot outside shots but not to let him drive. Instead, Clarkson slashed, pureed and liquified the Saluki defense and made 11 layups on his way to 31 points as Missouri (2-0) beat Southern Illinois (0-1) 72-59 Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
“Tonight, we didn’t play smart at all,” Hinson said. “Doggonit, I’m glad they didn’t give the ACT exam tonight, we wouldn’t have done very well, we wouldn’t have been eligible.”
Missouri interim coach Tim Fuller saw that opportunity presented by the undisciplined Saluki defense.
“Coach Fuller just told us to attack the paint, so I think we did a good job of that tonight,” Clarkson said. “Having a deadly shooter coming off the drives like that, then you have to pick either one. It’s fire and ice. So it’s either you’re going to let us take the layup or Jabari (Brown) is going to knock down the 3.”
Southern Illinois trailed by just one point heading into halftime. Just before the break, the Salukis switched from a zone defense to a man-to-man set up.
“We were really good until the head coach made the decision to switch defenses right before we went in the locker room, and I don’t know who that guy is, but they should drug test him tomorrow,” Hinson said.
Hinson said he thought the defense change would look good, jokingly singing the SportsCenter music.
“What a stupid idiot,” Hinson said.
Brown finished with a team-high three 3-pointers, totaling 17 points. At halftime, Clarkson, Brown and senior guard Earnest Ross, who finished with 11 points, combined for 32 of Missouri’s 35 points.
Ross didn’t score in the second half, but the trio still finished with 82 percent of the team’s scoring. All other Tigers combined for just 13 points.
“We have to win,” Fuller said. “The first half we shared the basketball, we tried to move the basketball, but I’m not going to ask players to do things they’re not comfortable doing.”
The Saluki lineup is much shorter than the Tigers’, enough so that Hinson joked that his team was a bunch of water bugs. Because of that Southern Illinois tried to keep Missouri out of the post.
“He (Clarkson) figured out we weren’t going to let the ball go in on the pass, so he got it in there on the penetration,” Hinson said.
Clarkson’s 31 points were the most of any Tiger since Marcus Denmon scored 31 against Northwestern State in December 2011. He also finished with five assists, three rebounds, no turnovers and no fouls.
“Jordan has a huge basketball IQ, and I know that he’s a talent,” Fuller said.