Photos by Matthew Fairburn
Story by the Associated Press
Missouri guard Keion Bell drives to the basket for two of his 24 points. Bell shot 9-13 from the field on Saturday.
Keion Bell scored 24 points and Earnest Ross added 23, both season highs, as No. 17 Missouri used another strong second half to beat Auburn 91-77 on Saturday.
Ross hit five 3-pointers off the bench in his first game against his former team. The 6-foot-5, 222-pound guard played two seasons at Auburn, leading the team with 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He said it was satisfying to defeat his former teammates, but took more pride in getting the victory.
Missouri’s Earnest Ross battles for rebounding position against his former team.
“Very, very excited for a team win,” Ross said. “And that’s what we need. Because in order for the team to win, we all have to play well and tonight I think we did that.”
The teams combined for 49 fouls and 69 free throws but the slogging pace didn’t seem to affect Missouri (16-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference), which shot 54.5 percent from the floor after shooting 38 percent in a 73-70 loss at LSU on Wednesday.
Frankie Sullivan led Auburn (8-13, 2-6) with 12 points, while Rob Chubb and Chris Denson both had 10.
The Tigers moved to 13-0 at Mizzou Arena, joined by only Florida in the SEC as unbeaten teams at home. Missouri also benefited from having its full roster of players available to play for just the third time this season.
“This is the first game since Dec. 22 that we’ve had our whole team,” coach Frank Haith said. “That’s what I look at. That’s a blessing.”
After scoring the final four points of the first half to lead 45-35 at the break, Missouri used a 13-1 run ending with Jabari Brown’s layup with 13:43 remaining to give it a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Missouri is averaging 41.9 points in the second half this season compared to 34.6 points in the first half.
Bell, a game-time decision after missing Wednesday’s loss with an ailing shoulder, started and gave Missouri a couple of highlight plays during the first half with breakaway dunks after two steals. Bell teamed up with Phil Pressey to draw the loudest applause from the crowd with 24 seconds remaining in the first half when Pressey dribbled around three defenders and found Bell open underneath the basket for an easy layup.
“I was just trying to use as much energy and emotion as I can to provide some kind of spark,” Bell said. “When taking some time off you can be a little rusty, and the areas that you make up for that is energy and emotion.”
Alex Oriakhi scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds, but his three-point play with 12:36 remaining gave him 1,002 points for his career. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward scored 789 points in three seasons at Connecticut before transferring, and is averaging a career-high 10.4 points per game on 57.7 percent shooting this season.
He was first told about the milestone around a week ago.
“When they announced it, it was definitely a great feeling,” he said. “When you have your teammates supporting you, it’s even better. So it’s just a blessing and I’m happy I’m going to be able to end my career as a Tiger.”
Auburn dropped its sixth consecutive game since starting conference play with wins against LSU and at South Carolina. In its last five games, Auburn is shooting 35.5 percent, including 25 percent from beyond the arc.
Auburn went 9 of 28 from the floor in the first half but stayed within single digits by converting 15 of 16 free throws. Auburn also kept the rebounding deficit to 18-17 at halftime against the No. 2 rebounding team in the country. But poor shooting continued to plague Auburn in the second half (10 for 25) as Missouri pulled away.
Missouri plays five of its next seven games on the road, where the Tigers are winless in four attempts this season.
“We’ve got to get off to better starts on the road,” Haith said. “In early games we haven’t had really good starts. And that comes from focus and energy and passion and all the things we have here when we play at home. We’ve got to generate that.”
Missouri faces Texas A&M on Thursday, Feb. 7 at College Station. The next home game is Saturday, Feb. 9 against Ole Miss.
Updated 6:55 p.m.
Missouri’s Phil Pressey weaves his way through the Auburn defense before passing to Keion Bell for one of his 10 assists.
Alex Oriakhi collects a pass down low and finishes the play with a layup. Oriakhi finished the game with 11 points and reached the 1,000-point mark for his career.
Laurence Bowers goes up for a shot in the first half of Saturday’s game. Bowers scored 12 points in his second game back from a knee injury that kept him out for five games.
Missouri’s Jabari Brown attempts a shot in the first half of Saturday’s game against Auburn.
Earnest Ross makes one of his five 3-pointers. Ross shot 5-6 from long range and finished the game with a career-high 23 points.
Missouri’s Earnest Ross and Auburn’s Frankie Sullivan battle for a loose ball. Ross had three steals in Saturday’s game against his former team.