Ross scores 21 with injured back to lead Missouri past South Carolina

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Frank Haith was not even sure Earnest Ross was going to play on Tuesday night. But the junior swing man put in 37 minutes and a team-high 21 points while wearing a brace on his back to help No. 22 Missouri survive an upset bid from South Carolina and win 71-65 on Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
"It was pretty much a mental thing," Ross said. "Our trainer got me right yesterday and today. I just did a lot of treatment. I was gonna fight through this pain regardless, I was gonna help my team and try to do what I could do."
Missouri made only five of 27 three-pointers all night long, but got big shots behind the line from Ross with 1:04 to play and Jabari Brown with 14 seconds to spoil the Gamecocks' upset bid.
In addition to 21 from Ross, Brown had 17 and Alex Oriakhi added 18 and 11 rebounds for the Tigers.
South Carolina led 41-28 with 17:11 to go, but Brown tied it at 43 with a three-pointer and gave Missouri the lead on a free throw with 12:30 to go. The Tigers added a layup from Tony Criswell and one by Brown to complete the 20-2 spurt that lasted just less than six minutes and put Mizzou up 48-43.
"I think it was coach's halftime speech," Oriakhi said. "He questioned our toughness and he challenged us. Personally, I wanted to take it on as a challenge and see how I was gonna respond. Every time guys missed a shot, I was trying to do everything in my power to get the offensive rebound and finish. I think that boosted my offense and my rebounding and my overall play."
South Carolina battled back to take a 54-51 lead on Brenton Williams' fourth three-pointer of the night and it was back and forth the rest of the way. Williams led the Gamecocks with 16 points.
"You knew they were coming," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. "They always do. I've been in this building enough to know that regardless of what your lead is, they're always gonna make a push. Our guys answered that push, and we retook the lead and it gets down to about two minutes to go..."
The Tigers finished the game on a 10-2 run to spoil the Gamecocks' upset bid.
"This song and dance for us is getting old," Martin said. "This is game five in league play, and it's five games with under two minutes to play that we got a chance to win the game and we're 1-and-4. The song and dance is getting old. But the encouraging thing is that we're knocking on the door."
South Carolina led by as many as nine points early on and had a 35-27 edge at halftime.
"Coming off a tough loss at Florida where we really struggled and usually when that happens, you practice hard and you get into the game and everybody wanted to do so well. I thought because of that, we took some really quick shots," Haith said. "I thought our guys responded well. It was about the energy we needed to play with and not feeling sorry for yourself."
Ross did not start, but entered for Negus Webster-Chan before the first television timeout. He scored 11 first half points to keep the Tigers close. Ross combined with Oriakhi to score 13 of Missouri's first 15 points.
Brown capped a 6-0 Tiger run with an acrobatic layup. Brown threw the ball in off the glass as he was falling to the floor after a foul. He missed the free throw, but still managed to tie the game at 17.
The Tigers made only six shots from the floor in the opening half, including a nearly eight minute drought after Brown's layup, but a 14-17 performance at the free throw line kept Missouri reasonably close.
NOTES: Missouri was down two starters. Laurence Bowers missed his fourth straight game with a sprained MCL and Keion Bell did not go after injuring an ankle against Florida. ... Martin entered the game 2-0 against Haith at Missouri. Martin beat the Tigers twice as Kansas State's head coach last year. Both wins came by double digits. ... Missouri is 78-4 at Mizzou Arena over the last five seasons, including 11-0 this season. ... Missouri made only two of its first 24 three-point attempts before making its final three. ... The Tigers attempted 36 free throws, making 28. South Carolina made just 11 free throws in 17 attempts.

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