Returning to the bench after a five-game NCAA suspension, Missouri coach Frank Haith didn’t scream at his players despite a five-point halftime Thursday against Northwestern at Orleans Arena.
“He actually was relaxed and told us to relax,” junior Jordan Clarkson said. “We just had to get stops. That was the biggest thing in the second half. We had to get consecutive stops.”
With Haith’s wisdom in mind, the Tigers opened the second half with a 14-0 run — broken up by seven straight stops on defense — and zoomed into the lead behind freshman Johnathan Williams III during a 78-67 comeback victory.
“I remember after I scored once, I looked over at the bench and he was fist-pumping, yelling, pumping up the crowd,” said sophomore forward Ryan Rosburg, who finished with a career-high 14 points. “When you have a guy like that in your corner that you’re playing for, it makes you want to do anything to win for him and make him proud.”
Missouri, 6-0, certainly made Haith proud in the opening minutes after halftime.
Williams, who matched Rosburg with a career-high 14 points and eight rebounds, connected on a baby hook to open the second-half scoring and Clarkson followed with a game-tying three-pointer, the Tigers’ first basket from beyond the arc, to ignite the rally.
“We wanted to come out and win that first 4 minutes, so when J3 (Williams’ nickname) came out and hit that hook and I hit that three, it got our energy level going,” said Clarkson, who led Missouri with 21 points. “You saw other guys start knocking down shots, but it started with our defensive presence.”
Northwestern junior JerShon Cobb, who led all scorers with 22, stopped the Missouri’s scoring streak with a jumper at the 15:10 mark, but the damage was done and the Wildcats never again drew closer than seven.
“We did a better job handling their zone in the second half,” Haith said. “Teams are going to play us zone, because we’re big and athletic and we can drive the ball, so we’ve got to be able to do that. But that doesn’t mean we settle for jump shots.”
Haith said better ball movement side to side atop the zone created seams for entry passes and gaps for dribble penetration that weren’t there for an impatient first-half offense.
Missouri also got more touches in the paint, which is something Haith emphasized when his suspension was lifted Tuesday morning.
“One of the first things (Haith) said when he came back and we had a team meeting was that we’ve got to play inside-out,” Rosburg said. “That has to be our focus. Hopefully, our guards realize playing inside-out is going to open up so much for them. Tonight, I think me and J3 did a pretty solid job. I think we can do better.”
Rosburg and Williams combined for 28 points, hitting all eight field-goal attempts and making 12 of 16 free throws, with 11 rebounds and only two fouls and one turnover in 53 total minutes.
“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Clarkson said. “I was telling Rosburg in the locker room, he’s gotten so much better and developed so much. If we have that every night, it’s going to do nothing but open the perimeter for us.”
Missouri outrebounded Northwestern 35-19 overall, including a 20-9 advantage on the boards in the second half.
The Tigers continue to struggle at the free-throw line, shooting 24 of 35 overall (68.6 percent), but made up for it by shooting a blistering 60 percent from the field (15 for 25) in the second half.
Junior Jabari Brown added 15 points and eight rebounds. He hit three second-half threes after the Tigers had combined to shoot 0-for-7 from long range in the first half.