COLUMBIA — When No. 22 Missouri hosts South Carolina at 6 p.m. tonight, its roster might resemble a M.A.S.H. unit more than it does a roster.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
On Monday, Missouri coach Frank Haith confirmed that senior forward Laurence Bowers, who has missed the last three games with a sprained MCL in his right knee, will not play against the Gamecocks Tuesday night. He also said senior guard Keion Bell will likely miss the game with a sprained ankle, while junior guard Earnest Ross is a gametime decision with a back injury.
That’s three of Missouri’s top seven players that will, at the very least, be limited against a competitive South Carolina squad that features a coach (former K-State coach Frank Martin) that brings a reputation for getting his teams to play tough. Sounds like fun, right?
“They are going to play smashmouth basketball, that’s how they play,” said Haith, whose team went 0-2 vs. Martin’s K-State squad last season. “They’re going to test your manhood and come after us. That’s part of (the identity) of his teams and the way they play defensively.”
Considering Missouri’s recent offensive struggles — the Tigers shot a combined 37 for 106 from the field (34.9 percent) and committed 40 turnovers in recent losses to Ole Miss and Florida — you can understand why that could potentially spell trouble against the Gamecocks, 11-6 overall and 1-3 in the SEC.
That also means Haith — whose team is 13-4 and 2-2 — will likely lean on freshmen forwards Stefan Jankovic and Ryan Rosburg and guard Negus Webster-Chan to give the Tigers more than they have been giving recently. Between them, they’re averaging a combined 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in a total of 40.7 minutes per game, though all three will likely get more of a chance to show what they can do tonight.
“They have to play now because of our numbers,” Haith said. “We’ve got to get some better minutes (out of them).”
Rosburg, who scored a point and had four rebounds in a season-high 23 minutes in an 83-52 loss to Florida on Saturday, expects to be better after experiencing at a raucous road gym for the first time.
“It was very eye-opening to see how many fans they had and how crazy it was,” Rosburg said.
Jankovic, who scored seven points in 13 minutes, echoed those sentiments.
“It was tough (to keep your composure),” Jankovic said. “You’ve got the crowd yelling at you, you’re down … it was tough but it was a good experience.”
Fortunately for the freshmen, Tuesday night’s game will be played at Mizzou Arena, a much more welcoming environment. That should come in handy in a game that could turn physical as the Tigers look to display more toughness than they did against the Gators.
“I’m looking for some other guys to step up and give us some things to win the basketball game,” Haith said. “We’re very disappointed in the fact we didn’t compete in the way we needed to compete (against Florida) and we didn’t handle adversity very well. We’ve got to do a better job of that … all of us.”