COLUMBIA — Missouri coach Frank Haith has long known that junior guard Earnest Ross has been more effective coming off the bench, statistically at least.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But after he only played two minutes in the first half of Missouri’s 73-70 loss at LSU last Wednesday because of a lackluster start, Haith found an opportunity to help Ross, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Auburn, embrace his role.
During a team meeting last week, Haith wrote two stat lines on the board: Ross’ numbers when he started and when he came off the bench. Minutes played, points, rebounds, everything. Then Haith asked Ross which stat line he’d rather have.
“He goes ‘Obviously, that stat line,’” Haith said. “Well, that stat line (he chose) was coming off the bench.
“I think it helped him because every kid … I’m telling you, they all want to start. They want their name called out and it affects them.”
That might have happened to Ross against LSU. Even though starting guard Keion Bell sat out because of a shoulder injury, Haith kept Ross on the bench.
“I think Earnest probably thought he was going to go in the starting lineup, and then Negus Webster-Chan goes into the starting lineup,” Haith said. “But I’m trying to look at what’s best for our team, and I think he understands that now.”
Ross — who is averaging 12.6 points in 11 games off the bench compared to just 8.5 points in his ten starts — said he does, though he added that he long ago bought into his designated role of rebounding, defending, scoring in transition and playing with energy.
“As a player, it kind of makes you understand a little bit more,” Ross said. “I kind of understood the reason, and as long as we’re winning, I’m happy.”
Stopping A&M’s Turner a focus
One thing has become clear as Missouri prepares to take on Texas A&M on Thursday in College Station: the Tigers better be ready to stop Elston Turner.
Turner, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, leads the Aggies in points with 15.7 per game and has impressed Haith with his all-around game.
“He has the ultimate green light, No. 1,” Haith said. “When you have the green light, you play with a lot of freedom but I think he’s very capable. He can shoot the ball, he’s good off the deck.”
Haith said the Tigers will need to pay close attention to Turner coming off screens, which is one way the Aggies like to free him up.
“Keion Bell, Jabari (Brown), Earnest, they’re all going to have their work cut out for them guarding him,” Haith said.
Haith remains optimistic that junior forward Tony Criswell will play on Thursday. Criswell, who suffered a broken middle finger earlier this season, appeared to injure his hand in MU’s 91-77 win over Auburn on Saturday, despite the fact he was wearing a cast.
“I anticipate him being ready, he went back into the game the other night,” Haith said. “They are going to X-ray to see the healing process and where it’s at, but I do anticipate him competing on Thursday.”
Haith lauds No. 8 Miami
While Missouri remained in both polls — No. 21 by the AP and No. 20 by the coaches — after a 1-1 week, Haith’s former team cracked the top 10 in the AP poll for the first time in 10 years. The Miami Hurricanes, 17-3, jumped up from No. 14 to No. 8 on Monday afternoon.
Haith, who left Miami for Missouri in April 2011, has noticed how well the Hurricanes — who are led by seniors Reggie Johnson, Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott, all players he recruited to the program — are playing, too.
“I mean, they’re old,” Haith said. “But they’re big. They’re big. And I think they’ll win the ACC. They’re the most talented, biggest team in their league.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-234-4489. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.