Basketball Tigers to host Gardner-Webb

COLUMBIA, Mo. — There hasn’t exactly been a marquee matchup on the Missouri Tigers’ basketball slate just yet.

A pair of home games against Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Illinois opened the season before a contest against Hawaii at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

The trend of tilts against unheralded opponents continues when Missouri (3-0) hosts Gardner-Webb (2-2) at 2:30 p.m. today at Mizzou Arena. The lack of fan interest certainly has reflected that light schedule, as the Tigers brought in just 14,720 combined fans for the first two home games.

Not that Missouri interim head coach Tim Fuller has noticed.

“I haven’t noticed that there’s been a difference from what they’ve been in the past,” he said of the attendance. “They’re just as loud. I’m thankful for the ones that do come out. … Mizzou Arena’s a great atmosphere and we love playing in it.”

Packed house or not, it’s another chance for the Tigers to improve and get another win. Even though it’s not the most familiar of foes, there is a recognizable face.

“Obviously with them having Naji Hibbert, we’re familiar with him,” Fuller said of the Texas A&M transfer. Hibbert played in 93 games with the Aggies over three seasons. “He’s a top-100 recruit. He’s one of those kids that wanted to be the man somewhere and he wanted more time. He has the opportunity to do that. He’s put up big numbers for them thus far. It’s going to be a challenge for (Earnest Ross) and Jabari (Brown) to hold him in single digits.”

Hibbert is a big (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) guard that averages 13 points per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor. He is one of four Runnin’ Bulldogs who average double figures. Forward Donta Harper leads the way with 15.5 points, while guard Tyler Strange tosses in 12 points and forward Jerome Hill adds 10.8.

Gardner-Webb opened the season with losses to Xavier and Furman before responding with victories against Jacksonville and the NAIA’s Allen University.

“Tim Craft is an exciting coach,” Fuller said of the Gardner-Webb head man. “He gets his guys motivated.”

Missouri features four players in double figures, led by Brown’s 19.7 points. Jordan Clarkson (19.3), Ross (11.7) and Tony Criswell (11) also have lit up the scoreboard in the early portion of the schedule.

While certainly the heavy favorite, Missouri isn’t taking Gardner-Webb lightly.

“Every time we go out there is a chance to get better and show what you can do,” Brown said. “It’s not about who you’re playing, it’s about playing your best. Don’t disrespect your opponent because when you do that, that’s when they sneak up on you and get an upset.”

Added Clarkson: “Sitting out all of last year, you really can’t take anything for granted. I’m just out there playing hard every game, leaving everything on the court.”

After today’s game and Monday’s contest against IUPUI, the schedule does pick up a bit for the Tigers. Missouri faces Northwestern and Nevada in the Las Vegas Invitational over Thanksgiving before returning home to face West Virginia and a ranked foe in UCLA in early December. Games against Western Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina State and Long Beach State close out the non-conference slate for the Tigers.

Note: Missouri sophomore forward Stefan Jankovic announced Friday he will transfer out of the program. The 6-foot-11 Jankovic played in 28 games during his Tiger career, averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 rebounds. He averaged just 8.7 minutes on the floor in Missouri’s first three games this season, including playing less than a minute against Hawaii.

“I want to thank everyone at Missouri, my teammates, the coaching staff, the administration and the fans,” Jankovic said in a statement. “This was a tough decision for me, and Missouri will always hold a special place in my heart, but this was about having the opportunity to find a better fit where I could play a larger role on the court. I am looking forward to my next opportunity and want to wish everyone at Mizzou all the best this year.”

Added Missouri head coach Frank Haith: “First and foremost, Stefan was a great representative of our program during his time at Mizzou and we wish him and his family all the best as his collegiate career moves forward. Stef wants a larger role in his next opportunity and I will do everything I can to help him land in a great situation.”

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