Published December 17, 2012
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Jabari Brown understandably felt nervous Monday night.
Playing in his first game since Nov. 17, 2011, when he was a freshman at Oregon, Brown scored 12 points, helping No. 12 Missouri beat South Carolina State 102-51.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard became eligible at the end of the first semester. He entered the game with 16:01 left in the first half. After a missed 3-pointer, he assisted on a fast-break layup by Negus Webster-Chan. He scored his first points on two free throws with 9:35 remaining.
"It felt weird having a lot of people cheer for me," Brown said. "But I felt good."
Alex Oriakhi said his new teammate is more than just a great shooter on the court.
"He's looking to get other people involved," Oriakhi said. "On this team, we have a lot of guys that can score the ball. So with him being a passer, along with the rest of us, it makes the team a lot more comfortable to play with each other."
Missouri (9-1) didn't need Brown on Monday.
Phil Pressey's jumper 17 seconds into the game gave the Tigers the lead for good. An 18-2 run midway through the first half provided the team with a 31-11 lead with 5:58 left.
Despite not playing for nine days, the Tigers scored 49 points in the first half, representing the team's best this season.
Missouri had been shooting 39.6 percent in the opening half for the season before its 18-for-33 performance Monday.
The team did better in the second half, adding 53 points on 23-of-39 shooting, helping Missouri reach the 100-point mark for the first time since Dec. 15, 2011.
"We haven't been putting two halves together and we have been struggling with starting games off well," Keion Bell said. "So just to see the guys come ready to play and just play with intensity was something I wanted to see in our team."
Matthew Hezekiah led South Carolina State (4-7) with 14 points and 12 rebounds. His six points were the only scoring by the Bulldogs in a 12-minute stretch in the first half, helping Missouri build its early lead.
Khalif Toombs and Louis Adams, who have combined for 28.1 points per game this season, added a total of 14 points after only contributing 13 in the team's last game against Albany.
"We were supposed to slow the game down," Hezekiah said. "They got us out of that and they kept running and scoring and we couldn't stop team."
South Carolina State, picked to finish last in the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason poll, is already one win shy of matching its total of last season, when it finished 5-26 overall and 0-16 in conference.
Despite having a minus-7.2 rebounding margin against its last seven opponents, all of them from non-BCS conferences, the Bulldogs hung in there on the glass in the first half, getting outrebounded 23-19 by the third-ranked rebounding team in the country. But Missouri expanded the margin in the second half, outrebounding the Bulldogs 25-15.
Coach Tim Carter said that he thought his team had improved game-by-game until Monday.
"They ran us out of everything we tried to do," he said. "Everything. They did a great job. We had no answer for anything that they did tonight, no answer."
Earnest Ross' 16 points led five Tigers who scored in double-figures, while Oriakhi grabbed 11 rebounds. Laurence Bowers added 11 points, giving him 1,001 for his career, becoming the 44th Missouri player to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
"I know one thing, I'm very honored to have had an opportunity to coach him," coach Frank Haith said of Bowers. "The young man has really worked hard to get his game to where it is, and he's going to score a lot more points."
Missouri plays No. 10 Illinois on Saturday in St. Louis in the teams' annual Braggin' Rights Game, having won the last three.
When Bell and Oriakhi were asked about playing for the first time in the usually raucous environment the series provides, Haith interrupted, saying, "Just let me answer that, I've never seen that. So a neutral-court game with that kind of atmosphere, surely they wouldn't ever have seen that either."