Missouri to host So. Mississippi

The Missouri Golden Girls perform during a timeout the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Davidson in the first round of the NIT Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Columbia, Mo.

The Missouri Golden Girls perform during a timeout the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Davidson in the first round of the NIT Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Columbia, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

Editor's Note: Follow News Tribune sports writer Josh Hall on Twitter for updates during today's game.

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The sting of missing the NCAA Tournament has worn off. Now the Missouri Tigers are focused on making it to New York.

Second-seeded Missouri (23-11) hosts third-seeded Southern Mississippi (28-6) in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament at 4 p.m. today at Mizzou Arena. A win would put the Tigers one game away from playing in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

“We’re right there, one step closer to get to New York, and there’s no question I think guys get more and more excited about that,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said.

“The first one’s always tough because you’re thinking about not making (the NCAA Tournament), and it happens so quickly. You find out Sunday, then you may play Tuesday, so it’s still lingering there that you didn’t make the NCAA. But as you move forward now that it’s another week, there’s some teams that unlaced their shoes, more teams, based on this weekend, so you’re still in an elite group still playing, and I think it becomes more and more of a positive for your guys.”

With 40 teams already eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by the time today’s NIT action begins, Missouri is among a small group of teams still playing.

“We’re still playing for something,” Missouri forward Ryan Rosburg said. “These games, they’re tournament-situation games. You win or you go home. That can only help us and get us ready for next year.”

Missouri and Southern Miss can empathize with each other, as both were considered on the bubble before being left out of the Big Dance. The Golden Eagles, after all, boasted a No. 33 RPI before getting snubbed.

“Southern Miss is a good team,” Haith said. ” … They’re a good team, very experienced team, four seniors. They know how to win. They play tough, hard-nosed, just gritty. Their defense, they play zone all game, but it’s an aggressive, attacking zone. Both their post guys are built like the Tennessee guys (Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon). They’re undersized but bulky guys, very physical. It is going to be a heck of a game for us.”

Those posts would be 6-foot-7, 225-pound Daveon Boardingham and 6-foot-5, 210-pound Aaron Brown. They average 10.5 and 9.8 points, respectively, while combining for 9.1 rebounds.

Another 6-foot-5 Golden Eagle, senior guard Michael Craig, leads the way with 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Diminutive guard Neil Watson adds 10.4 points and dishes out 3.9 assists per contest.

“They’re impressive on tape,” Haith said. “You don’t win 28 games and not be very good. I don’t care what league you’re in. They just ... they play a certain style that’s unique and that’s constant pressure, so your guys have got to get ready for that.

“They’re a talented, experienced group that knows how to win.”

Jabari Brown continues to lead Missouri with 20.1 ppg, while Jordan Clarkson adds 17.6 ppg and Earnest Ross tosses in 13.8 ppg.

Missouri is coming off an 85-77 victory against Davidson in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday. Southern Miss topped Toledo 66-59 on Wednesday. Today’s winner will take on the Minnesota-Saint Mary’s winner for a right to advance to New York for the NIT’s version of the Final Four.

“They’ve (Missouri assistant coach Tim Fuller and Haith) said it’s something special,” Clarkson said. “Going to New York and playing in the Garden, the mecca for basketball.”

So would that make the 2013-14 season a success?

“I think so, just because we finished out strong and won something,” Clarkson said. “Not too many teams come out with a win at the end of the season.”

III

Haith provided an update on freshman guards Shane Rector and Wes Clark, who were suspended for Tuesday’s game after their arrest on suspicion of possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana.

“Shane Rector has been reinstated,” Haith said. “Wes Clark is still suspended based on a violation of team rules. If he cleans up everything, he should be back with us shortly too.”

Missouri was left with just seven scholarship players available for Tuesday’s win, plus walk-on Danny Feldmann. Rector’s return helps out at least a little bit.

“I expect Shane to play,” Haith said. “We’re still down in numbers without Wes, who’s been a big part of our team, but yeah, I expect Shane to play more, and Danny Feldmann will probably play more. He’s earned that.”

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