COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri’s Big Three of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross combined for 59 points and West Virginia needed a furious late-game surge to avoid a beatdown at the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Most of Clarkson’s 25 points came in the paint, as the big 6-foot-5 guar dpushed the Tigers toward what looked like a runaway before WVU closed strong to make the final score a respectable 80-71.
“Guys like (Clarkson) really benefit from the way they’re calling the game now,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “But you can’t (allow them to) live in the lane like that. We didn’t keep them out of the lane.”
Missouri (8-0) enjoyed its largest cushion, 63-38, with 9:43 to play after a 3-pointer by Brown, who finished with 18. But the Mountaineers (6-3) climbed within 75-67 in the final 1:11 on Remi Dibo’s 3, his first points of the night. The margin was cut to seven with 33 seconds to play before Mizzou held on.
“For 33 minutes we were terrific defensively,” said Missouri coach Frank Haith.
Juwan Staten led WVU wth 16 points, while Gray Browne and Terry Henderson added 14 each and Devin Williams added 10. The team’s top scorer, Eron Harris, scored eight points on only 3-of-6 shooting, partly attributable to being benched for a 10-minute chunk of the second half after forcing up an ill-advised 3-pointer.
After entering the game making 3s at a 46-percent clip, West Virginia sank only 4-of-19.
“We did a solid job of communicating and rotating,” said Mizzou’s Clarkson. “We ran the guys off the 3-point line. We knew they were a good 3-point shooting team.”
Missouri, led by 10 rebounds from Tony Criswell, outboarded WVU 40-32. Staten and Williams topped the Mountaineers with six rebounds each.
“We haven’t rebounded the ball all year,” Huggins said. “We didn’t rebound it again today.”
WVU trailed 11-1 seven minutes into the game before making its first field goal, a Henderson 3 in transition. That was the lone 3-pointer of the half, which the Mountaineers finished 1-of-11.
Staten and Harris combined for one field goal, three turnovers and only four points during the opening 20 minutes, whereas Mizzou’s Clarkson scored 14, including two free throws with 3 seconds left that built a 36-22 lead.
Missouri opened the second half on a 9-2 run, including Clarkson’s runout dunk after Jabari Brown blocked Harris’ 3-point try.
By the time the Tigers made 11 of their first 15 shots in the second half, any prospect of a WVU comeback seemed to be snuffed out. But West Virginia climbed back into the game with a 32-14 run—the lone salvation of an otherwise bleak trip to the Midwest.
“We’re not going to quit. I’ve only ever had one team that ever quit,” Huggins said. “We would’ve laid it down last year. There would’ve been guys taking just the worst shots in the world and I’d sub somebody else in and he’d take a worse one than that.”