The Mediocre Mile

COLUMBIA --- Speaking for Missouri fans everywhere ...

Thanks, we needed that.

The Tigers are in the middle of the Mediocre Mile of SEC play, and it continued with Saturday's date with Alabama.

Like most schools in the SEC, Alabama is really good at football (as you probably know), really not at basketball.

But after stumbling out of the conference gate, Missouri finally showed some extended stretches of competency, as the Tigers outscored the Crimson Tide 37-17 in the second half to pull away for a 68-47 win before a season-high crowd of 11,003 at Mizzou Arena.

"We had a solid ball game today; we needed a game like this," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "We played with great intensity."

This is all Missouri fans want, really. The Tigers won't always play well, no team does, but shouldn't they always play hard?

Back to this Mediocre Mile ...

The RPI can be a valuable tool of determining a team's value, or perhaps you think it's almost worthless --- especially at this time of year. But the numbers are important, nonetheless.

Here's the opening stretch of the Tigers' conference opponents, their respective RPI entering Saturday, and the result (Missouri's RPI was 50, by the way):

Georgia (158), Missouri lost by four.

Auburn (170), Missouri won by two.

Vanderbilt (101), Missouri lost by three.

Impressed yet?

Alabama (99), Missouri wins by 21.

Even with this result, going 2-2 in this four-game set really doesn't inspire visions of greatness.

Next up: at LSU (71), South Carolina (117), at Arkansas (62). Then, finally, the price of poker will go up when Missouri hosts Kentucky (17) on Feb. 1.

But that's down the road.

On this day, it was the Missouri defense that was the difference, holding Alabama to 4-of-23 from the field in the second half (1-of-9 on 3-pointers) and just 17 points.

"I thought our defense was pretty good the whole game, but it was really, really good in the second half," Haith said. "You could see it from the bench, in terms of us talking and having great close-outs."

With Mike Kelly calling his 700th Missouri basketball game on the radio (Kelly is really good, if you weren't sure), the Tigers (14-3, 2-2 SEC) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, before Alabama (8-9, 2-2) used a 12-2 run to take an early three-point edge.

Missouri eventually took a 31-30 lead at the break, despite leading scorer and point guard Jordan Clarkson sitting much of the half with foul trouble.

Enter freshman point guard Wes Clark. He wasn't all that impressive and he didn't score a point, but Clark didn't hurt the cause, either.

"Wes was really good; I think he played 15 straight minutes in the first half and he didn't turn the ball over (actually, he had two turnovers and two assists)," Haith said. "He held us in check and helped us stay in the game."

Said Clark: "Alabama's a great team (chuckle here), but we found a way to dominate.

"It's a learning process. I know some mistakes are going to be made throughout the game and throughout the year, but it's great following a point guard like Jordan Clarkson and learning from the experience."

The Tigers opened the second half with a 17-4 burst to build a 48-34 lead with 12 minutes left, and the lead never dipped below double-digits the rest of the way.

There were a few key players in this win.

Let's start inside, which has been a vacant lot for Missouri most of the season --- even though the Tigers have the tallest roster in college basketball.

But on this day, we had a Johnathan Williams III sighting --- the 6-9 freshman totaled nine points, a career-high 14 rebounds and a blocked shot.

"He played big today, he was so good in our zone on the back line," Haith said. "He was going from corner to corner, he used his length and obviously on the boards, he played like a man."

Clarkson finished with 16 points and Earnest Ross scored 12, but Jabari Brown led the way with 24 points. And this was an efficient and user-friendly 24 points, as he was 7-of-9 from the field, 3-of-5 beyond the arc, and 7-of-8 from the line.

"Jabari was aggressive and he got to the free throw line," Haith said. "He's really had a lot of growth in his game, a lot of maturity, and it's great to see him have this kind of success."

Saturday, the Tigers attempted just 10 3-pointers, making three. In Thursday night's loss at Vanderbilt, they tossed up 23 and made only six.

"We want to be in attack mode, we want to attack the rim," Haith said. "We took too many 3s the other night at Vanderbilt, but we were much better today, as far as being aggressive."

Next up, a trip to LSU on Tuesday night to meet another set of Tigers.

"It's a great time to be a Tiger," Clark said, without specifying which Tigers, "and we've got to go down there and get that win."

We'll see.