Missouri’s leading scorer Jabari Brown disappeared for half the game but showed up when the Tigers needed him to save a second straight contest.
Brown went scoreless for 22 minutes of game time, but then hit seven of his final eight shots and made a crucial steal to give Missouri an important win against an RPI top-50 team, beating Tennessee 75-70 on Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
The Volunteers had a chance to tie the game, down by three nine seconds to play. Brown intercepted Jeronne Maymon’s inbounds pass, then flipped it to Mizzou freshman forward Johnathan Williams III. Tennessee fouled Williams, who hit both free throws to seal the win for the Tigers.
“We knew (Jordan) McRae was going to get the ball at the end,” Brown said. “I was able to switch out, the guy threw it, and I was able to make a play on it. Just trying to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Brown and Missouri (18-7, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) grabbed a 24-11 lead nine minutes in, with Brown equaling the Volunteer point total. As Missouri’s star faded from the score sheet, its big men put together their best performance of the season.
Williams, freshman forward Torren Jones and junior forward Keanu Post all beat their single-game highs for scoring in SEC play, and senior forward Tony Criswell scored eight points, the most he’s scored since a Jan. 16 loss at Vanderbilt.
“I love ’em, man,” Brown said of the big men. “You guys always ask us how we feel about our bigs. We’ve got confidence in them, and I feel like they’re getting better and better every game.”
Keeping the big men in the game proved troublesome for coach Frank Haith. After only 16 fouls were called against the two teams in the first half, 28 were called in the second half.
With 9:37 to play, Williams, Criswell, Jones and sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg all had four fouls.
“I thought for sure we were going to have all of those guys out of the game,” Haith said.
The bigs laid off, with none of them fouling out before the final buzzer. Haith praised them for staying in the game, especially Rosburg for taking a charge in the final minutes.
Junior guard Jordan Clarkson failed to reach double-digits for the first time this season, scoring just seven points. It broke his streak of 52 games of double-digit scoring. But like Brown, he helped late, scoring four points in the final five minutes.
“He made a big shot there at the end. We called his number, made a huge shot there at the end,” Haith said. “Sometimes you’re not going to be able to get to the rim. You have to have your float game, and I thought it was a tremendous shot for him.”
With Tennessee (15-10, 6-7 SEC) at No. 50, the victory marked just Missouri’s second win over an RPI top 50 team this season, with the other coming in December against UCLA. The only game left on the Tigers’ schedule this season against such a team is also against the Volunteers, March 8 in Knoxville, Tenn.
“It was a great win for us,” Haith said. “Quick turnaround, playing a team that I think is an NCAA tournament team. … That team is a heck of a team we just beat today.”
Vanderbilt (14-10, 6-6 SEC) visits Mizzou Arena on Wednesday night as Missouri looks to close up a three-game home stand without a loss.