He wanted to share a moment with his mother, Toy Sue Miller Ross, and the 6-foot-5 Missouri guard from Cary, N.C., made it a point to thank his biggest supporter.
”She doesn’t get to come to many home games just because she lives so far from here,” Ross said. ”My mother was definitely the person I was looking at. For her to come out and support me as far as she lives, I’m grateful to have her and I really appreciate it.”
She certainly enjoyed what she saw.
Ross scored a season-high 23 points against his former team, leading No. 17 Missouri to a 91-77 victory over Auburn on Saturday.
He sat on the bench for the first 3 1/2 minutes, itching to get in against the school he played for from 2009-11. During his sophomore season at Auburn, he led the team with 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Ross said it was satisfying to defeat his former teammates, but he took more pride in helping Missouri (16-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) get the victory.
”Very, very excited for a team win,” he 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.”
Keion Bell had a season-high 24 points for the Tigers, who 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 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.”
The teams combined for 49 fouls and 69 free throws but the sluggish pace didn’t seem to affect Missouri, which shot 54.5 percent from the floor after shooting 38 percent in a 73-70 loss at LSU on Wednesday.
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.”
Frankie Sullivan led Auburn (8-13, 2-6) with 12 points, while Rob Chubb and Chris Denson both had 10. The Tigers dropped their 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.
”It’s the same beat of the same drum,” Sullivan said. ”Every game is the same thing.”
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.
”We had no defense on the perimeter,” Chubb said. ”They were just straight-line driving whenever they wanted and finishing around the rim. When they were around the rim, people were coming in too late, giving weak fouls and allowing them to complete and-ones. It was a recipe for disaster.”
Alex Oriakhi scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds for Missouri, and 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.
Oriakhi said 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.”
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.”
— Associated Press —