It wouldn’t be hard to blame Missouri senior Earnest Ross if he felt a bit like a third wheel.
For most of the season, Ross, a senior guard who averages 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, has been overshadowed by juniors Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown.
“I think he should be commended, because he’s a senior and most of the year the talk has been Jordan and Jabari,” coach Frank Haith said. “He’s kind of been the third guy, but I think he’s handled it really well.”
While Clarkson, who has won the SEC’s player of the week three times, and Brown, who is currently riding a scoring streak unrivaled in the Tigers’ last 21 years, grab the headlines, Ross insists he is content with his role and doesn’t envy the attention his teammates receive.
“Not at all,” Ross said. “I’m just here to win — play games and do what I’ve got to do for my team to win. So far, I think we’ve done a good job of doing that. Regardless of who gets the credit, we all just want to win.”
To that end, Ross’ teammates know that Missouri wouldn’t be 16-4 overall or even 4-3 in the SEC without his contributions.
“We all know Earnest’s capabilities and his talents,” Brown said. “He’s been having a good year.”
Ross ranks 13th in the SEC in scoring and 12th in rebounding. He’s had some huge games, too.
Against Nevada in the Las Vegas Invitational, Ross pumped in 28 points. He scored 20 against UCLA and added a double-double in Missouri’s win at North Carolina State.
Still, perhaps his best contribution came Tuesday when Ross led the Tigers with 24 points, including a late go-ahead three-pointer, and added six rebounds and two steals in a road win at Arkansas.
“He’s stayed even keeled and he’s been outstanding on the boards,” Clarkson said. “He’s been trying to find stuff to help us win, even when he’s not scoring the ball. But as you saw last game, he can score the ball and do a lot to contribute to this team.”
Haith calls Ross’ presence a luxury for Missouri.
“It’s a luxury to have three guys who can go for a big night,” Haith said. “What is a big night — 25-plus points or 24-plus points? I think we’ve got three guys on our team who can do that, so it’s a nice luxury to have.”
Early in conference play, Ross struggled from the field, particularly from three-point range. He missed all seven attempts from behind the arc in a loss at Vanderbilt and is only four of 21 from deep in the last five games.
“He had a couple rough shooting nights, but I just told him, ‘Keep shooting. You’re going to hit them shots,’” Brown said. “And Arkansas is an example of that. He hit big shots when we needed them.”
Ross’ teammates never lost confidence in the Cary, N.C., native who transferred to Missouri in 2011 after two seasons at Auburn.
Coming out of a timeout Tuesday with barely a minute to play in a tie ballgame at Bud Walton Arena, Clarkson didn’t hesitate to kick the ball out to Ross at the top of the key after driving the lane and drawing the defense.
“It felt great and I knew he was going to knock it down,” Clarkson said. “He’s just one of those kind of players.”
Of course, it was a relief for Missouri’s coaches and players to see Ross deliver in that situation — not only for the team, but for him.
“I’m glad he’s having success on the court, because he deserves it,” Haith said.