Before a technical foul was called on the Missouri bench Saturday afternoon, Mizzou Arena could have been mistaken for Ellis Library, where librarians have been shushing students for nearly a century. After that whistle, though, the crowd erupted in boos, injecting life into the Tigers.
Before that “T”, junior guard Jabari Brown had been called for a technical of his own, followed by a travel that eventually landed him on the bench. Brown sulked off the court, lackadaisically slapping hands of his teammates. A team assistant put a towel over Brown’s shoulder, which Brown threw backward in frustration.
After the whistles, the Tigers channeled that frustration into points, going on a 14-0 run and pulling away from the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs in a 72-63 win and moving to 4-0 this season.
“One of the things that I just wanted to continue to know (was) what was being said,” Missouri interim head coach Tim Fuller said of the bench technical. “Jabari said something about a foul. He has a right to express himself, and I give him that freedom. So I just wanted to make sure that nothing derogatory was said, and they were playing Mizzou basketball — representing Mizzou in the right way. That was a heat-of-the-moment technical, and we just move on.”
In the stands, there was little question derogatory language was being used. The Antlers, located in the Missouri student section, were ejected because of “a pattern of unruly behavior.” On Saturday, representatives of campus conduct had met with members of the Antlers to review what chants would be appropriate and what chants wouldn’t. The Antlers violated that guidance early in the game.
“We have a high level of expectations for our fans, and that wasn’t met,” said Dave Reiter, Missouri assistant athletic director. Reiter reiterated “it is a campus conduct issue now.”
Back on the court, a recurring issue for the Tigers was scoring away from the paint. That wasn’t so in the first half for Gardner-Webb. The Runnin’ Bulldogs shot four for nine from behind the arc in the first half. Guard Naji Hibbert, along with forward Jerome Hill, led Gardner-Webb with 17 points apiece.
“In the first half Gardner-Webb, even though they were down in points, they won the intensity war,” Fuller said. “In the second half, we won the intensity war.”
With a little less than 8 minutes remaining in the first half, Brown had the ball with no one around him at the three-point arc. He pumped once, then opted to drive to the rim and lay it in for two points — a play that would prove to be a microcosm for the Tigers’ offense most of the afternoon.
“Today, we tried to get inside because the outside shots weren’t falling as much,” Brown said. “So, there’s gonna be games like that.”
The Tigers were two for 12 from three-point range. Freshman forward Johnathan Williams III led the team with 17 rebounds, eight of which were offensive boards, giving Missouri plenty of second- and third-chance opportunities to score.
“Establishing ourselves in the paint is something that we are going to continue to do,” Fuller said. “We’re going to have to bring along paint touches whether it’s through our post players or our guards driving the basketball. We’re not going to be just a jump-shooting basketball team.”
Fuller said that he had asked Williams as a recruit to “average 20 rebounds.” A theme inculcated in this Tigers team is to, as Fuller put it, “rise to the shot.” An emphasis is placed on rebounding and, more broadly, on effort.
“Back in high school, I had one of my coaches tell me this: ‘Rebound out of your area,’” Williams said. “So, don’t let the ball find you. You find the ball.”
Missouri will have to continue to rise to the occasion without suspended head coach Frank Haith against IUPUI at Mizzou Arena on Monday. Haith will return to the team for the 2013 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, beginning against Northwestern on Nov. 28.
In the meantime, the Tigers continue to formulate chemistry and find their identity.
“This is our fourth game together — six if you include the exhibition games — as a group,” Fuller said. “With Jordan Clarkson at the point, Johnathan Williams III playing 30 minutes, so we’re still very much gelling and meshing into the unit that we need to be.”