With Tony Criswell suspended and most of Missouri’s starters in foul trouble Saturday at Auburn, freshman Torren Jones and junior Keanau Post were pressed into their most significant action of the season.
Jones played a season-high 13 minutes and Post logged a season-most 14 minutes in helping Missouri escape with a 70-68 victory.
Tigers coach Frank Haith said it’s a trend that probably will continue, including today at Vanderbilt.
“I’ve got to get them out there,” Haith said. “I want them getting court time. We’re going to sacrifice it, getting them in there early and just letting them play through it. They’re going to make some mistakes. We’re not going to be fluid, but I think it helps us in the long run.”
For much of the season, Missouri, 13-2, operated with basically a two-man bench, Criswell in the frontcourt and freshman Wes Clark in the backcourt, but Haith signaled that is changing.
“I think it’s what’s best for our team that those guys get court time and increase our depth a little bit,” Haith said. “Those guys have also improved in practice. I’ve seen progress in what they’re doing out here on the court and having an understanding of what we want them to do. All those things come into play in making that decision.”
Of course, Jones and Post, who sat out three games and played only 16 minutes in four other games since Nov. 29 prior to the Auburn game, welcome the additional workload.
Jones, who didn’t make it off the bench in five games and totaled only 37 minutes in the other nine games before Auburn, admitted it was difficult to be a spectator.
“It was actually, because I came from where I was playing and dominating and stuff,” Jones said. “I felt like I was going to come here and do the same thing. But seeing somebody in front of me, I had to wait my turn and it was kind of frustrating at first.”
At Auburn, Jones — a supremely athletic but raw talent — made the most of his opportunity, collecting a game- and career-high 11 rebounds. He also beat or matched career-bests for points (four), assists (one) and steals (one).
Meanwhile, Post, who was a second-team junior college All-American at Southwestern Illinois Community College last season, grabbed a career-best six rebounds against Auburn.
“Keanau and Torren also have the ability to be factors in the lane,” Haith said. “I was real pleased with Keanau’s minutes. I know (the stat line) doesn’t look great, but he hasn’t played a lot and his whole thing is confidence. His size can be a factor. Not only is he big, but he moves well.”
It’s no secret that Missouri continues to search for consistent production inside.
The Tigers have held their own on the boards, winning the rebounding battle in every game except an overtime loss to Georgia.
Still, nearly 70 percent of Missouri’s scoring has come from its starting guard trio — senior Earnest Ross along with juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown.
“Torren — big body, big shoulders — he’s going to go in there and get rebounds and do all the dirty work really,” Clarkson said. “We’re looking for continued progress from him, and Keanau’s going to come in and give us some solid minutes too.”
Post said he could feel his confidence surge during the Auburn game after thinking too much early in the season and struggling to adjust to the pace of the game.
“It’s slowing down, and I’m getting more comfortable with it,” Post said. “I’d be lying if I said my confidence hadn’t been shaken, but every player’s confidence gets shaken at times. I’m just staying positive. The coaching staff is always helping with that.”
The staff is also hoping Post and Jones can continue making strong contributions.