Jackson drives Missouri with energy off bench

The freshman provided several highlight-reel displays of athleticism in the win over Arkansas.
Tray Jackson goes up for a shot against Arkansas on Satuday. Photo by Andrew Moore

Tray Jackson stood at the end of the court and took in the moment.

One jaw-dropping display of athleticism had just led to another for the freshman as he rejected an Arkansas layup to jumpstart a fast break that ended with a highlight-reel dunk. The game continued so he couldn’t take too long, but the Detroit native let out one extended scream before running back on defense.

“I couldn’t hold in my emotions,” he said. “It gave me a lot of intensity.”

Jackson ended the overtime win with 9 points on 4-5 shooting and four rebounds. The stats aren’t anything that will pop off the page, but sequences like that are flashes of what could be for the springy 6-foot-8 forward.

“The biggest thing I saw, I think is a glimpse into a lot more to come,” senior forward Reed Nikko said. “We’ve known since the day he stepped in campus, he’s a fantastic player. Tremendous athlete. He’s gotten a lot more comfortable in just understanding his role … even in the position he’s in, where he’s not getting consistent minutes, he can be a great source of instant energy, instant offense for us off the bench.”

Jackson didn’t start or even enter the game particularly quickly. After using a seven-man rotation for most of the first half, coach Cuonzo Martin dug deeper into his bench as starters got into foul trouble. Jackson was pressed into action, entering for the first time with 5:45 left in the period.

“I think I always play with the same type of confidence,” he said. “But my teammates were just telling me, ‘Tray, be ready. Be ready.’ [When I] see Reed get the fourth foul, I was mentally prepared.”

With 12 seconds left in the first half, Jackson got the ball at the top of the key and the sea seemed to part in front of him. He took two dribbles and two long strides down the middle of the court before unleashing an uncontested one-handed slam to give Missouri a 36-28 lead.

Jackson had another throwdown with less than a minute remaining in overtime. Down by two, the Razorbacks came out in a full-court press. Point guard Xavier Pinson weaved through the Arkansas defenders, crossed the half-court line and locked eyes with Jackson. Jackson pointed upward, and Pinson knew what to do from there. He lobbed the ball towards the basket. Jackson lept and slammed home his third dunk to essentially seal the game. This time, it was Nikko who couldn’t control his emotions.

“I think I just about passed out yelling after that,” he said.

Jackson hasn’t had an ideal start to his freshman year. Saturday was the second time in SEC play that he had played more than ten minutes. He’s shooting just 42% from the field, and that’s part of what makes the athletic plays he made against Arkansas so important.

“You gotta stand out in some way,” he said. “Stand out from the crowd, do something different, so that’s what I look to do every game.”

Jackson may have a specific role right now as an energy guy off the bench, with the expectation that he’ll be a more significant contributor down the road. Pinson, however, thinks his teammate can be that contributor right now, he just needs the opportunity.

“Tray is actually, in my eyes, a pro,” Pinson said. “He’s one of the best 3’s or 4’s I’ve ever played with. His opportunity will come … he’s just gotta stay patient.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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