Tigers look for more big efforts inside

Tennessee’s Jordan McRae (center) is called for an offensive foul against Missouri’s Ryan Rosburg (bottom) as Johnathan Williams III tries to block the shot during Saturday’s game at Mizzou Arena.

Tennessee’s Jordan McRae (center) is called for an offensive foul against Missouri’s Ryan Rosburg (bottom) as Johnathan Williams III tries to block the shot during Saturday’s game at Mizzou Arena. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Frank Haith is no magician.

The third-year Missouri head coach didn’t just flip a switch that prompted the Tigers’ frontcourt to go off for 29 points during Saturday’s 75-70 win against Tennessee, the third-highest total of the season for the big men.

It was mostly just the posts translating success from the practice court to an actual game.

“It’s just a matter of those guys getting out there, doing it and having some success,” Haith said. “So it wasn’t a magic wand where we said, ‘Poof,’ and now all of the sudden you’re going to do it. It’s something we’ve been talking to our guys about all year, and they know that, and we just hope that they can build on it.

“Now they’ve had some confidence in doing it, and it can be an every game occurrence. There’s no question we want that. But I think when you have success like Keanau Post having some success, that only helps your confidence. … And I think when you’re having that kind of success against a good team, hopefully, it helps your confidence.”

Johnathan Williams III delivered his best offensive performance during Southeastern Conference play with 10 points. The last time the freshman hit double digits in the scoring column came Dec. 28 at North Carolina State.

“I spent a lot of time talking to (Williams) about just believing in yourself,” Haith said. “You are that same player, and I think he became real tentative. His confidence lacked, but it came from getting two fouls. I don’t know if it really came from him, his production. I think he was so tentative because of getting fouls I think he became tentative on both ends of the court. The last three games you look at it, he got two quick fouls in every game. He didn’t have it (against Tennessee). Now what we did was we ran plays for him to try to get him going, and he got a couple post-ups, and he hit that jump shot in rhythm, and I think that gave him a little bit more confidence.”

Freshman Torren Jones tallied a career-high eight points against Tennessee, doubling his second-best offensive output. He also pulled down five rebounds while tying a season-high with 14 minutes. Post scored four points in a career-high 15 minutes, the first time the junior-college transfer has found the scoring column since Jan. 16 at Vanderbilt. That stretch spans six scoreless games.

Missouri’s frontcourt gets a chance to prove it can score on a consistent basis when the Tigers (18-7, 6-6 SEC) host Vanderbilt (14-10, 6-6 SEC) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mizzou Arena (KMIZ-TV).

“Obviously when you play Missouri their three perimeter players are all pretty lethal from an offensive standpoint,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross during Monday’s SEC teleconference. “Then you watch that Tennessee game, I believe their post players combined for 13 points above their average. They stretch you on all ends.”

Said Clarkson: “They just played out of their mind last game. As long as they keep bringing that, I think we’re going to turn into a great team.”

Therein lies the challenge. Can the Missouri frontcourt continue that sort of production?

If history is any indication, the answer is no. Williams leads Missouri’s posts averaging 6.1 points per game. Ryan Rosburg, who was limited to two points in just 13 minutes of play due to foul trouble, adds 5.0 ppg. Tony Criswell (4.5 ppg), Jones (1.3 ppg) and Post (0.9 ppg) provide limited scoring production off the bench.

Yet the Big Three still have confidence in the big men.

“They’ve been working hard,” Brown said. “I think they’ve had their moments throughout the season, but I feel like it’s becoming more consistent now.”

It would certainly relieve some of the pressure placed on Missouri’s guards. Brown (20.5 ppg), Clarkson (18.7 ppg) and Ross (14.2 ppg) have carried the load thus far.

“I’m not sure if they changed their mindset or not, but when they come in here they’re ready to play like everybody else,” Clarkson said. “They’re working hard and trying to leave everything they’ve got on the court.”

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