COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Frank Haith seemed fairly calm for a coach under fire, and one who shed his sports coat and tie while willing his team forward.
No. 22 Missouri’s second-half surge no doubt had a lot to do with it.
During a dismal first half Haith said he “almost bust a blood vessel.” After the Tigers rallied from 13 points down in the second half and held off South Carolina 71-65 on Tuesday, the coach said he was relieved that a lengthy NCAA investigation implicating Haith in recruiting violations at Miami was apparently about to end.
“Obviously, I can’t say a whole lot about what’s going on because contrary to what’s been reported, there’s been no letter written to Frank Haith and my attorneys have not received a letter of any allegations,” Haith said. “So until that happens, then I (can’t) respond.
“As of right now there’s nothing our way, but I do feel and know that we’re getting close to the end, and that’s what’s exciting to me.”
CBSSports.com said Monday that Haith would face an “unethical conduct” charge because of inconsistencies the NCAA found in his account of the recruiting of DeQuan Jones, plus would be charged with “failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.”
Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown hit key 3-pointers in the final 1:11 for Missouri, which was just 5 for 27 from long range overall. Ross played 37 minutes wearing a brace to protect ongoing back issues and a day earlier Haith hadn’t been certain he’d play.
“It was pretty much a mental thing,” Ross said. “Our trainer got me right yesterday and today and I just did a lot of treatment, and did my thing.”
Haith did his thing, too, blocking out the rumors and coaching up a storm with a team coming off a dispiriting 31-point loss at Florida and minus top player Laurence Bowers plus guard Keion Bell. The tie came off at halftime and the jacket came off early in the second half.
“I almost took everything off,” Haith joked. “I’ve had a couple of those where you feel like you’re going to bust a blood vessel. That was one of my top ones.”
Ross had a career-best 21 points and Brown had 17 for Missouri (14-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), which is 11-0 at home this season and has won 12 straight at the Mizzou Arena since losing to Kansas State and coach Frank Martin, now in his first year at South Carolina, on Feb. 21, 2012.
Brown had eight points in a 20-2 run that gave Missouri a five-point lead with just under 12 minutes to go. Alex Oriakhi was 10 for 10 at the line and fouled out in the final minute with 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Tigers, who won despite 33 percent overall shooting.
“As I told our team, adversity, you’ve got to be able to handle whatever’s going on off the court,” Haith said. “When you get that opportunity, do what you do.
“I get an opportunity to coach young men, I’m going to do my very best.”
Brenton Williams had 16 points with four 3-pointers for South Carolina (11-7, 1-4), which has lost four conference games by a combined 18 points and faced its first ranked opponent of the season. RJ Shawson added 10 points for the Gamecocks, who shot 37 percent.
Ross’ 3-pointer made it 66-63 with 1:11 to go and Brown’s 3-pointer made it 69-65 with 14 seconds left.
Missouri had a huge advantage at the free throw line, going 28 for 36 compared to 11 for 17 by South Carolina. Martin stopped short of criticizing the referees.
“I thought both teams were going at it at the rim,” Martin said. “I’m not going to go there because I’m probably not going to wake up really happy tomorrow if I go there.
“I don’t know what to tell you. They came at us. We went at them.”
Martin is 6-5 against Missouri, but just 1-5 at the Mizzou Arena.
“I’ve been in this building enough to know that regardless of what your lead is, they’re always going to make a push,” Martin said. “And that crowd’s incredible, it always is.”
South Carolina went more than 5 1-2 minutes between points, finally ending the drought on a tip-in by Brian Richardson that cut the deficit to three with 11:34 left.
Missouri was 2 for 23 from 3-point range before Phil Pressey banged one in off the glass for a two-point lead with 4:39 to go.
Missouri trailed at halftime for the third time at home after missing its first 13 3-point attempts, a slump ended by Ross with 32 seconds to go, and shot just 20 percent overall to trail 35-27. Pressey had no points, two assists and three turnovers, and three players were 0 for 3 from long range, and the Tigers stayed in range with 14-for-17 free throw shooting.
South Carolina hit four of its first five 3-pointers, three days after going just 4 for 21 in a home loss to Vanderbilt. Williams had three of the 3-pointers for the Gamecocks, who shot 41 percent.