By The Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Even though Missouri hadn’t played in the Sprint Center in more than a year, interim coach Tim Fuller had a simple message for his team – it was still playing at home, and it had to defend Kansas City.
The Tigers did just that. Playing in the heart of what’s traditionally viewed as Big 12 country, Missouri held off a pesky Hawaii team 92-80 to delight the Tiger fans populating the Sprint Center.
“We were counting on our 13,000 fans tonight from Kansas City to be behind us,” Fuller said. “This is Mizzou West, and we continued to reiterate that to our team throughout pregame shoot-around and throughout the whole day that we don’t lose at home and this is our home away from home.”
Jabari Brown scored 23 points, and Jordan Clarkson added 13 for Missouri (3-0), which won its sixth straight game at the Sprint Center.
However, the last time the Tigers played in the arena, it was 2012 and they had just defeated Baylor to win the Big 12 Tournament. It was the final game Missouri would play in the conference before bolting to the Southeastern Conference.
Christian Standhardinger led Hawaii with 22 points before fouling out as the Rainbow Warriors (2-2) lost their fifth-straight game on the mainland.
Still, Hawaii made sure Missouri’s homecoming was anything but easy.
The Tigers’ lead remained in single digits for most of the game until Wes Clark fed Ryan Rosburg with a nifty pass for a two-handed dunk, giving Missouri a 10-point lead with just less than 8 minutes remaining. It gave the crowd a dose of energy on a night when both teams struggled to put together any sort of momentum or extended run.
Moments later, Clark drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Tigers’ lead to 13 points. Still, Hawaii’s Garrett Nevels responded with a 3-pointer of his own. But the Rainbow Warriors couldn’t get closer than 7 after that.
Rosburg emphatically ended Hawaii’s upset bid with another dunk with 2 minutes remaining.
“Coach has been talking to us about attacking the lane and getting into the lane and creating for the bigs,” Missouri guard Earnest Ross said.
Videos welcoming Missouri back to Kansas City from local business leaders and politicians were played on the video board during timeouts, but a chunk of empty seats littered the arena.
Still, Brown and Clarkson made sure the Tigers would leave Kansas City happy. Although Clarkson shot only four free throws, his ability to penetrate and bait the Rainbow Warriors into fouling impressed Hawaii coach Gib Arnold.
“Jordan Clarkson should probably send a lot of his scholarship money to the new rules committee because I don’t know how anyone in the country’s going to guard him off the bounce,” Arnold said, jokingly. “Him driving with those new rules, it’s hard to defend.”
After trailing by one at the half, the Tigers used a quick 12-6 spurt to grab the lead early in the second half.
Just like in the first half, the Rainbow Warriors responded to both runs.
Hawaii wasn’t as flashy as the Tigers, but they used timely 3-pointers and free throw shooting to take its halftime lead. The Rainbow Warriors outscored Missouri 16-6 from the free throw line in the first half before the Tigers scored a multitude of free throws to ice the game late.
For most of second half, Hawaii stayed hot from the free-throw line, but it shot only 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
“We weren’t getting any flow by making threes so it had to come a little differently,” Arnold. “It had to come out of our defense. It had to come off the drive and at the foul line.”
Missouri weathered Hawaii’s attack by using penetration to drive the ball and then either kick out to an open guard for a 3-point attempt or to an open big man down low when help defense arrived on the ball. Missouri dominated the points in the paint 56-36.
“Our bigs are going to be able to play off of penetration,” Fuller said. “We always talk about making that pocket pass and dropping the ball off down into the paint.”
The Tigers stayed undefeated in their third game without coach Frank Haith, who was suspended by the NCAA for five games for his role in the Nevin Shapiro scandal while Haith was the head coach at Miami. He is eligible to coach his first game of the season Nov. 28 against Northwestern.
Missouri held Isaac Fotu, who leads Hawaii in scoring with 16.7 points per game, to only 7 points, helping offset the other four Rainbow Warriors who scored in double figures.
“He was the focal point of our scouting report,” Fuller said. “Coach (Mark) Phelps did a phenomenal job. I don’t think he slept for 72 hours now, just making sure that our team was prepared to guard.”