Clarkson helps Missouri hold off Vanderbilt 67-64
Originally published February 19, 2014 at 10:08 p.m., updated February 19, 2014 at 11:58 p.m.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — An ugly victory sure beats a pretty loss.
With the regular season coming to a close and the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Missouri will take any kind of win these days.
Missouri went just 6-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final 91 seconds Wednesday night, leaving the door open for Vanderbilt. A late desperation heave from halfcourt from Kyler Fuller just missed off the back rim, as Missouri escaped with a 67-64 victory at Mizzou Arena.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of games,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. “I thought we lost some focus there. We saw some plays out there that we haven’t had in awhile, in terms of offensive execution and focus in terms of missing free throws. But that’s part of it sometimes. I’m proud of how we finished up, obviously getting the win. Winning is hard.”
Jordan Clarkson paced Missouri with 21 points while Earnest Ross added 16. Jabari Brown had 10, barely escaping his first game of the season in single digits.
“I think it was a solar eclipse tonight or something,” Clarkson said of Brown’s off-night. “You rarely see him miss shots that he’s used to taking and making.”
Damian Jones led Vanderbilt (14-11, 6-7 Southeastern Conference) with 19 points, James Siakam chipped in 13 and Rod Odom had 10.
“We were going to take Odom away,” Haith said, alluding to Odom’s 24-point game in a 78-75 win Jan. 16 against Missouri. “We wanted to make sure we contested him. He’s having an all-conference type year. … We didn’t want him making shots.
“Damian’s one of the best young post players in our conference. He’s right up there with the guys like (Arkansas’ Bobby) Portis and (LSU’s Jordan) Mickey. I think he’s one of the really good ones.”
Missouri’s late-game management almost erased an 8-0 run that took the Tigers from down 51-48 to ahead 56-51. The Tigers later held a 61-53 advantage, its largest of the game, with 2:04 left.
Then came the free-throw woes.
“I wouldn’t say we relaxed, but we just didn’t focus and make free throws and make plays when we needed to,” said Clarkson, who actually went 11-for-11 from the charity stripe. His teammates went 6-for-16.
Ugly might be the best descriptor for the first half.
Vanderbilt controlled the tempo, playing at a slow, deliberate pace. That suits the Commodores just fine, considering they feature just seven scholarship players on the roster.
It took Missouri 10 minutes, 41 seconds to reach double figures, as Clarkson hit a pair of free throws to give Missouri an 11-10 advantage.
“It’s going to happen,” Haith said. “You’re playing a good team. You look across the country and there are other scores like that. We missed some shots. I do think also we weren’t ourselves in terms of taking good shot, great shot.”
Tied at 15 with 8:01 to go before halftime, Missouri went through a scoring drought that lasted 6:42. Yet Vanderbilt led just 19-17 by the time the Tigers scored again on a layup from Torren Jones.
Earnest Ross connected on a 3-pointer from the baseline to put Missouri up 20-19 with 36 seconds left, but Damian Jones tipped in a lob on a baseline out-of-bounds play as the buzzer sounded to put Vanderbilt ahead 21-20 at halftime.
“I didn’t expect us to hold them to 20 in the half,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “I’ve seen us get 21, that’s not that uncommon. To hold them to 20 was more of a surprise to me.”
Missouri’s 21 first-half points marked its lowest scoring output in any half all season. The Tigers went just 7-of-21 from the field, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range, while turning the ball over six times in the first 20 minutes.
The scoring picked up in the second half. Missouri got going early with 10 points in the first four minutes.
Missouri went 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) from the field after the intermission.
“We knew we were going to pick it up second half and make shots,” Clarkson said. “We have confidence in our offense that we’re going to score.”
Tied at 34, Johnathan Williams III hit just his second 3 of the season with the shot clock winding down. Clarkson followed with two free throws to become the first Missouri player in double figures with 12:18 to go. That gave Missouri a 39-34 lead.
Vanderbilt later went up 51-48 with 5:57 left on a layup from Damian Jones.
Missouri then used that 8-0 run to take control. Clarkson completed a traditional three-point play to tie the game, Ross nailed a 3 to give the Tigers the lead and Clarkson added a fastbreak layup off of a steal from Brown.
Ahead 56-53, a crafty move from Clarkson for a layup preceded another 3 from Ross to give Missouri its largest lead at 61-53 with 2:04 to play.
Missouri (19-7, 7-6 SEC) travels Saturday to Alabama. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (ESPN2-TV).
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