GAME NOTES: Eager to find their way back into the Top 25, the Missouri Tigers close out a two-game road trip on Thursday with an SEC showdown with the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Frank Haith's Tigers won 12 of their first 13 games, but opened SEC play with a stunning 70-66 overtime loss at home to the Georgia Bulldogs. Despite getting back in the win column this past weekend at Auburn (70-68), the Tigers fell out of the national rankings this week.
Kevin Stallings' Commodores a treading water right now at a modest 8-6 on the year. Staying afloat in the SEC has become that much harder with the recent loss of leading scorer Eric McClellan, who is gone for the season. The team has dropped a pair of games to start league play, losing at Alabama (68-63) and then at home to nationally-ranked Kentucky (71-62).
This series is knotted up at 3-3. Vanderbilt has won both matchups in Nashville.
The Tigers got a strong rebounding effort and finished with a 44-28 edge on the boards in the two-point win at Auburn last time out. Jordan Clarkson led the charge offensively with a team-best 20 points, thanks to 6-of-11 shooting from the floor and 8-of-11 from the free-throw line. Clarkson was joined in double figures by Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown, who netted 16 and 15 points, respectively.
The Tigers have seen an offensive shortage since early-December, as the team has managed to reach the 70-point plateau just twice in the last six games. The numbers overall still reflect a highly competent scoring team, with Missouri averaging 75.0 ppg on .471 shooting. Clarkson and Brown are as potent a one-two punch as there is in the nation, coming in averaging 18.9 and 18.2 ppg, respectively. Ross finishes off the top scoring threats on the Missouri roster at 14.2 ppg.
If Missouri finds its offensive groove again, Vanderbilt may be ill-equipped to match up. The Commodores come into this game averaging a mediocre 69.6 ppg and that is with McClellan's team-high 14.3 ppg in the mix. Without him, the scoring burden now falls on the likes of Rod Odum (13.2 ppg), Damian Jones (11.2 ppg) and Kyle Fuller (10.5 ppg).
The Commodores shot a solid 50 percent from the floor against Kentucky, but were dominated on the boards (41-28) and turned the ball over 16 times in the loss. Just a freshman, Jones showed signs of his potential, recording his first-ever double-double with team-highs of 18 points and 11 rebounds. Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker weren't far behind in the scoring column with 17 points each. Fuller also recorded a double-double in the loss, doling out a game-high 10 assists.
The Commodores will have to learn to adjust without McClellan in the lineup. Against a team like Missouri. itching to find an offensive rhythm, that may be too much to ask for.
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