As Stephen F. Austin coach Kyle Keller walked off the court after Tuesday’s loss to Missouri, his wife Chaunsea noticed he had a broken cuff link.
“What happened to your shirt,” she asked.
“Barnett,” he said.
“I understand,” she replied.
Jordan Barnett, Missouri’s senior forward, put on a shooting clinic in the first half of the Tigers’ thrilling win over the Lumerbacks. Barnett scored 17 points in the first half on just six shots and finished the game with 22 points, just one shy of his career high.
The performance caused Keller to break his cuff link during a halftime speech where he told his team to play better defense on him or else Barnett would likely finish with 40 points.
Barnett, a St. Louis native, has been a staple for Missouri’s offense this year after Michael Porter Jr. announced he’d likely be out for the season after undergoing back surgery. Barnett returns to his home city on Saturday for the Missouri’s matchup against Illinois in the annual Braggin’ Rights game. Barnett enters the game as one of the team’s leading scorers alongside graduate transfer Kassius Robertson.
“He’s been knocking shots down at an extremely high rate,” MU junior Kevin Puryear said of Barnett. “It also seems like he’s not missing at all.”
For the season, Barnett is averaging 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and leads the team in free-throw percentage at 91 percent. When Barnett got eligible last December at semester, the Texas transfer was being looked at as a player that could help change Missouri’s fortunes and potentially save Kim Anderson’s job.
Barnett averaged 12.2 points per game in 23 games for Missouri last year but was unable to change Missouri’s season or his coach’s job situation. But with more talent around him, Barnett, a 6-foot-7 forward, has been able to thrive on offense.
“I’m a lot more confident right now,” Barnett said. “Last year I didn’t hit as many shots. I’ve been able to see a couple go in, and that’s been really good for my confidence in shooting. I think that’s the biggest change for me.”
In the 2016 Braggin’ Rights game, Barnett finished with four points in 15 minutes and struggled to make an impact. It was only Barnett’s second game for Missouri, and he said he was nervous since he was still getting adjusted while having to play a rivalry game in his hometown.
Barnett said he was able to get tickets for plenty of family members and friends last year since the game was poorly attended as both programs had been struggling. Two coaching changes and an influx of talent later, Saturday’s game is sold out and Barnett is stuck with his usual ticket allowance of four.
“Some (friends and family) are actually paying to get tickets,” he said.
Throughout his first season as head coach at Missouri, Cuonzo Martin has been very critical of Barnett’s play, regarless of what the box score says. Martin, who offered Barnett a scholarship when Martin was at Tennessee, was upset with Barnett’s defense after the team’s exhibition loss to Kansas. Barnett scored 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting (which included five made three-pointers), but Martin thought Barnett could have done more on the other side of the court.
In the team’s win over Miami of Ohio on Dec. 9, Barnett had 15 points and eight rebounds and Martin again wasn’t happy with him.
“I didn’t think Barnett played a great game,” Martin said at the time. “I didn’t think we played very well at all.”
It wasn’t until Barnett got aggressive on the boards and went for 18 points and 11 rebounds against North Florida on Dec. 16 that Martin was pleased with Barnett’s performance.
“I just think that’s the next part,” Martin said after the North Florida game. “You walk away with 18 points, 19 points with two or three rebounds and I don’t know if that’s a good game because of his ability to rebound and slash and make stuff happen. He’s cutting more to the basket and getting layups and not just three-point shots.”
Both Sthen F. Austin’s Keller and Martin said that the majority of Barnett’s points this season have either come from behind the arc or above the rim, which makes him come off as a limited offensive player at times.
Barnett admitted after the North Florida game that if his three-point shooting looks good early in a game, he might settle for shots behind the arc instead of switching things up. Martin said Barnett’s ability to slash is a dimension of his game that Barnett has to use more because he’s one of the only guys on the team with the ability to do so.
Martin said he’s hard on Barnett because Barnett is a veteran and has to be able to do more if the team is to succeed.
“If it was a freshman, the conversation would be a little bit different,“ Martin said. “But he’s seen it. He’s been in big games. He has it in him. I’m never going to ask a guy or want something from a guy that doesn’t have it in him.
“That’s my job to pull it out of him.”