[db]Frank Haith[/db] returned to Mizzou Arena for the first time this season to a familiar sight. Haith saw [db]Jordan Clarkson[/db] score 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and the Missouri Tigers remained undefeated as they knocked off the West Virginia Mountaineers 80-71.
In the inaugural Big 12/SEC Challenge, Clarkson scored 14 points in the first half and Missouri never trailed. Clarkson scored 20 points or more for the fourth consecutive game.
The Tigers got off to a fast start, beginning the game on an 11-1 run.
"We can't let someone come in here and hit us in the mouth," Clarkson said. "We wanted to come out and hit them first, and let them know it was our home floor."
Clarkson was helped by teammates [db]Jabari Brown[/db] and [db]Earnest Ross[/db], who chipped in 18 and 16 points, respectively.
West Virginia was able to cut MU's lead to eight at 75-67 with 1:10 left in the second half, but Clarkson came up with a steal with less than a minute left and made of one of two free throws. The Tigers were able to put the Mountaineers away after the lead was cut to seven with 31.3 seconds left.
"We lost focus. We turned the ball over a little bit too much," Clarkson said. "We just have to stay focused (and) finish games."
"They have a Hall of Fame coach. They weren't going to quit," Haith said.
Speaking of that Hall of Fame Coach, [db]Bob Huggins[/db] was far from happy with his team's effort.
"I would say, yeah, we shot ourselves in the foot," Huggins said. "Or blew our head off -- whatever you want to write."
Trailing 36-22 at halftime West Virginia scored on its first possession of the second half, but Mizzou went on a 7-0 run, fueled by five quick points from Ross, including an assist to Clarkson for a two-handed slam.
West Virginia came into the game leading the Big 12, and seventh in the nation, with 9.6 three-pointers per game. The Mountaineers came into Thursday's game shooting 46.5 percent from three-point range, good for fourth in the country.
The Tigers held the Mountaineers to 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) from three-point range.
"We knocked some balls loose, and we not only we played man against a great shooting team, we also played a lot of zone," Haith said. "It allowed us to get to the shooters. I think this team is really taking our focus of being a better defensive team to heart."
West Virginia's two leading scorers, [db]Eron Harris[/db] (20.3 ppg) and [db]Juwan Staten[/db], (16.4 ppg) struggled as well. Staten was held to 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting with five assists. Harris scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, scoring only two points in nine foul-plagued in the first half.
"Eron (Harris) is very, very good when he lets the game come to him." Huggins said. "You can't get out of character. Honestly that's what defense is, trying to make people do things they can't do."
Coming into the game, Staten had one or fewer turnovers in 12 of the last 15 games dating back to last season. Staten had season-high 5=five turnovers in the loss.
The Tigers got solid bench production from [db]Wes Clark[/db] and [db]Tony Criswell[db/]. Criswell had eight points and ten rebounds. Clark scored nine points and had five assists with only one turnover.
Huggins is tied for 16th all-time in career victories with former Mizzou coach Norm Stewart at 729. Ironically, his first opportunity to top Stewart's mark was Thursday on Norm Stewart Court. Clarkson and the Tigers made sure that did not happen.
Up Next: The Tigers host No. 18 UCLA Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.
"UCLA is as good offensively as anyone in the country," Haith said. "We've got our work cut out for us Saturday morning."
Additional Notes:...Mizzou's largest lead was 25, a lead they held twice at 65-40 and 63-38...The Tigers outrebounded the Mountaineers 40-32...Missouri's new chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was introduced to MU fans during the first half of Thursday night's game...Attendance was announced at 7,292, which is less than half capacity of Mizzou Arena...The Tigers are 38-1 under Frank Haith at Mizzou Arena and have won 23 straight games at home...West Virginia fell to 6-3 on the season...With Ole Miss' 61-58 loss at Kansas State, Missouri is the last unbeaten team in the SEC.
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