Missouri junior guard Jordan Clarkson didn’t play well Wednesday night in the Tigers’ SEC opener against Georgia, a stunning 70-64 overtime loss that snapped a 26-game win streak at Mizzou Arena.
Perhaps no play illustrated his struggles more than the final possession in regulation, when Clarkson dribbled out the clock before hoisting a contested 18-foot fadeaway.
“Jordan’s got to pass the ball more,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said after the loss. “He’s got to get that ball in and out of his hands. This first time tonight in league play, he’s got to move the ball and get it in and out of his hands. That ball stuck way too much tonight.”
Clarkson, whose three-pointer with 33.7 seconds left ultimately forced overtime, finished with 12 points in 44 minutes, which is one point more than the season-low 11 he scored four days earlier against Long Beach State.
He went four of 14 from the field and three of six from the free-throw line. He committed more turnovers (three) than he dished assists (two) and didn’t record any steals.
It wasn’t a good game, but Clarkson has been Missouri’s best player this season.
Of course, another inescapable fact about Clarkson is that some struggles should be expected. After all, he’s adjusting to a new position after a year away from competition.
Clarkson isn’t a natural point guard. He never played on the ball in high school and saw limited minutes running the show at Tulsa, where Clarkson played two seasons before transferring to Missouri.
The Tigers worked on converting him from a slashing two guard to the point last season, when he sat out under NCAA transfer rules.
Clarkson set the bar high for himself after scoring a career-high 31 in Missouri’s second game. He also scored more than 20 points in seven of eight games from Nov. 25-Dec. 28.
“We all knew he was a good player, but you look at his numbers and he’s been extremely consistent,” Haith said Monday before the Georgia game. “… His knowledge and his IQ has really improved, learning that position.”
Still, Clarkson is learning how to play point guard, and it’s a tough balancing act between trying to carry the team at times and trying to facilitate for teammates at other times.
“Some games, (Haith) wants me to go out there and be real aggressive on offense and sometimes he tells me to get everybody involved early and make plays for people,” Clarkson said. “I’m just trying to do whatever he tells me to do.”
Haith said it makes him “a joy to coach because of that,” but it’s also a delicate balance — one that Clarkson must continue trying to (and occasionally will struggle to) strike.
So far, he’s been remarkably good. He ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring (18.8) and second in assists (3.9). It’s how Clarkson responds to tough nights like Wednesday that will be telling, for him and the Tigers.