When he became eligible at the end of the first semester, Jabari Brown had already been billed as Missouri's best shooter. He showed it on Tuesday night against Alabama.
Brown sunk five three-pointers on seven attempts and scored a career-high 22 points to lead the 10th-ranked Tigers to an 84-68 win over Alabama to open Southeastern Conference play.
"Coach always tells me don't get down on yourself or don't let one play discourage you so I just have that mindset," Brown said. "When I saw a couple shots go down, it just gave me some more confidence."
After missing his first attempt from beyond the arc, Brown made his next five, including two in three possessions that turned a tie game into a six-point Missouri lead.
"We knew coming in he could shoot the basketball," said Alabama coach Anthony Grant. "You could tell he got into a rhythm and it really fueled him and fueled his team."
"It feels good," Brown said. "It feels like the basket's getting bigger out there and I feel like every shot's going to go in."
In Missouri's last game, a 66-64 win over Bucknell, Brown and Earnest Ross had identical 1-for-9 shooting lines. But against the Tide, Brown made 7-of-11 and Ross hit 7-for-12, including 3-for-4 from three-point range, on his way to 19 points.
"I think he and Jabari both played well last game, they just didn't shoot it well," Frank Haith said. "That's something that I don't want our guys to define their game and how well they play on how well they shoot the ball."
"I knew that game was history," Brown said. "I just had to prepare the same way going into the next game."
While the points are what people notice in this game from Ross and Brown, Haith praised his all-around game. Brown dished out two late assists, had a steal, and did not turn the ball over in a team-high 37 minutes.
"Defensively, he did a great job on (Trevor) Lacey. He was outstanding on both ends of the court as he was last game when he didn't make shots," Haith said. "He made shots tonight. We've been working with other guys handling the ball and doing stuff and Jabari is one of those guys that is very capable."
It has been a season-long battle for Haith to find someone to handle the ball other than Phil Pressey. While the Tigers may not have a sure-fire answer just yet, Brown gave indications on Tuesday night that he can help in that regard.
"I feel I can do those things. I just feel like it's what the team needs," Brown said. "If I have open shots, I'm always going to take open shots because that's what our offense needs, but if they're closing hard, you know, I can make a play. Those pick and rolls I was just trying to take some of the load off Phil because I know he's out there with the ball in his hands 90% of the time. I'm just trying to help relieve him and make plays for my teammates."
The night was not without its share of potentially bad news, though. With six minutes and 18 seconds to go, Laurence Bowers fell to the floor under the Missouri basket and clutched his right knee. Bowers sat on the Tiger bench for a few minutes, then went to the locker room with 3:44 to play. He returned before the end of the game, but his status remains uncertain.
"They're gonna look at it," Haith said. "It looks like an MCL sprain maybe, but we don't know the extent of it and they're gonna look at it tomorrow."
Bowers tore the ACL in his left knee last October and missed the entire 2011-12 season.
"I think Phil fell on him. When he came down and he spun, he fell on him and kind of hit him on the side of his leg," Haith said. "It's part of the game, but we're very concerned absolutely."
There should be some clarification on Bowers' injury and his status going forward on Wednesday. Bowers was seen leaving the arena with a limp after the game, but did not speak to reporters.
Turning Point: With the game tied at 40, Brown hit back-to-back threes sandwiched around a layup from Bowers. When Ross followed with another triple, the Tigers had a seven-point lead with 15:59 to go and Alabama called a timeout. The Tigers would not lead by less than four the rest of the way.
Play of the Game: A Releford three had pulled Alabama within 65-59 with just more than seven minutes to play. A minute later, Ross got a steal and Brown found Oriakhi on a pick and roll for a layup. The three-point play put the Tigers up nine and Bama was never closer than eight the rest of the way. Missouri's senior center scored seven points in the final 5:55 to salt away the win.
Player of the Game: It has to be Brown. Billed as a shooter, Brown came through with the five consecutive threes to help keep Alabama at arm's length most of the second half. But he aslso dished out two late assists, got a steal and handled the ball a few times in the final minutes. In a game-high 37 minutes, Brown didn't have a single turnover.
Reason for Hope: The Tigers may have found their best backup ballhandler in Brown in this game. In addition, Missouri is now 12-and-2 and off to a successful start in SEC play.
Cause for Concern: Beyond the fact that the Tigers may be playing without Bowers, the Tigers have now been outrebounded two games in a row. Missouri was second in the nation in rebounding margin prior to the Bucknell game, but were outrebounded 39-38 by the Bison and 32-27 by an Alabama team that frequently played four guards.
Up Next: The Tigers will play their first SEC road game at Ole Miss on Saturday. The Rebels are 11-and-2 and will open SEC play at Tennessee on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Central time.
Quotable: "You've got to produce. And not necessarily about points, you've got to produce in terms of what we need you to do to help us win the game. It's all about that." --Haith on Keion Bell playing only four minutes
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