Missouri looks for more from its bigs today against South Carolina

Johnathan Williams III of Missouri drives to the basket past Georgia teammates Nemanja Djurisic (left) and Marcus Thornton during a game earlier this month at Mizzou Arena.

Johnathan Williams III of Missouri drives to the basket past Georgia teammates Nemanja Djurisic (left) and Marcus Thornton during a game earlier this month at Mizzou Arena. Photo by The Associated Press.

The Big Three can’t do it all.

Missouri’s starting guard trio of Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross have accounted for 70 percent of the Tigers’ scoring this season. By comparison, Missouri’s starting frontcourt — Johnathan Williams III and Ryan Rosburg — combine to score just 15 percent.

Frank Haith hopes that begins to change as Missouri (14-4, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) hosts South Carolina (7-11, 0-5 SEC) at 3 p.m. today (KMIZ-TV) at Mizzou Arena.

“You’ve got to have paint production in order to be a good offensive team,” Missouri’s head coach said. “You can’t just trail and shoot 3s. Whether or not it will be Johnathan Williams III or any of our other post players, we have to have some type of thrust in the paint. That’s something as coaches we have to adjust and move how we run our offense and play through guys there.”

Missouri’s frontcourt production sunk to just eight points in Tuesday’s 77-71 loss at LSU, and combined with zero bench points from Tiger guards, it meant the Big Three accounted for nearly 89 percent of Missouri’s points, a season high.

“Now we are different in the mindset that we drive the ball way better than we ever have,” Haith said, providing an explanation for the discrepancy in production between the frontcourt and backcourt. “That’s a big part of our offense is getting to the free-throw line. When you look at our percentages our free-throw attempts compared to what it was the first two years, I think you’ll see that this team is in attack mode in terms of getting to the line better. That’s how we score our points now.”

Haith is spot-on in that analysis. Missouri gets 26 percent of its points at the free-throw line this season, a mark that ranks 35th in the nation. That blows away the foul-line production compared to Haith’s first two teams at Missouri. The 2012-13 team scored 20.3 percent of its points from the foul line, good for 189th in the country. The 2011-12 team got 19.9 percent of its points from the foul line, which ranked 209th in the land.

That might bode well for Missouri against South Carolina. The Gamecocks allow opponents to score 29.7 percent of their points on free throws, a number that ranks sixth-worst in the nation.

Still, it’s clear the backcourt needs some help. And that starts with the highly touted Williams.

“(Williams) is only a freshman but we need him because he has the ability to score in the paint,” Haith said. “It’s just a confidence thing with a freshman. We want to go to him. As you recall with Alex Oriakhi, he didn’t think he could score. But we kept force-feeding him and kept working with him and you look at his numbers, they improved as the year went on. I think that’s what you’ll see with J3.”

Williams is averaging 6.9 points per game but is making his presence felt with 7.4 rebounds per contest. Rosburg, in comparison, averages 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Brown, thanks to a sizzling three-game stretch where he averaged nearly 25 ppg, leads the Tigers at 19.3 ppg. Clarkson is next at 18.7 ppg while Ross adds 14 ppg.

South Carolina, coached by former Kansas State head man Frank Martin, suffers from a similar plight. The Gamecocks’ starting frontcourt averages just 12 points per game.

Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell paces South Carolina with 12.8 ppg, while Brenton Williams is next at 11.5 ppg. Another guard, Tyrone Johnson, comes off the bench to score 11.2 ppg

The Gamecocks are coming off a 97-76 loss at Georgia and average just 70.6 ppg, which ranks 218th in the nation.

Missouri averages 74.4 ppg.

“You can play hard and still struggle a little bit,” Haith said. “… We’re still not shooting the ball great yet, but that will come. We’re a good shooting team. … I’m just hoping we get to the point where we are consistent in making those two-foot shots in traffic.”

A win today will pull Missouri back to the .500 mark in conference play.

“It’s still early,” Clarkson said. “We just have to win games now. Put some pressure on ourselves to not lose anymore.”

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