COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – Earnest Ross was asked to sum up his final 66 seconds with one word.
“It was a great feeling just to knock down the free throws to put us up one,” said Ross, before realizing he exceeded his quota. Coach Frank Haith started laughing, and so did the 6-foot-5, 228-pound guard.
Smiles came easily after Missouri escaped with a 57-56 win against Texas A&M on Wednesday. Ross converted two free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining to give Missouri its first lead of the night after being honored before the game for Senior Night.
All of Ross’ seven points occurred in the final 1:06, and the second of his two steals came with 2.2 ticks left as he broke up the inbounds pass from Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso. The Aggies couldn’t put up another attempt.
Officials reviewed whether Ross stepped out of bounds while intercepting the pass, but ruled that he didn’t and allowed the game to end.
“He stepped out of bounds,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “They just said they couldn’t clarify. Once they made the call, they couldn’t go back and change it unless it was totally something that they could see.”
Following the buzzer, Ross reflected on what he would take away from his final regular-season home game after playing his first two seasons at Auburn.
“Winning my last game, and being able to play in front of the people that really care about us and support us,” Ross said. “And so that’s something I will not be able to have a chance to do anymore.”
Jabari Brown finished with 20 points and Johnathan Williams III added seven points, eight rebounds and a career-high five blocked shots for the Tigers (21-9, 9-8 SEC). Missouri overcame 26.9 percent shooting in the first half and trailed by no more than four points during the final 10 minutes, but never caught Texas A&M until the final seconds.
Jamal Jones led the Aggies (17-13, 8-9) with 16 points, but committed a turnover with 17.4 seconds remaining and missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 8.1 seconds left.
Missouri’s last-minute comeback revived hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive season with just Saturday’s matchup at Tennessee remaining in the regular season.
Kourtney Roberson finished with 10 points and nine rebounds for Texas A&M, which took a step back in trying to reach the postseason for the first time in three seasons under Kennedy. The Aggies entered the contest having won five of their last eight games.
The Aggies fell to 1-11 away from Reed Arena, where they are 16-2 this season. Texas A&M limited Missouri to 34 percent shooting a game after the Tigers shot a season-high 62 percent from the field.
“We’ve had multiple games this year where it’s come down to the last couple minutes,” said Caruso, who finished with 13 points. “I felt like we knew what to do, but I felt like we didn’t execute as well as needed to obviously because we didn’t come out with the win.”
Missouri started 1 of 9 from the field and entered the locker room with more turnovers (9) than field goals (7). The Tigers then started the second half 6 of 10 from the field, and got a spark from freshman Torren Jones.
Jones, who was suspended the first half for a violation of team rules, entered the game and converted a traditional three-point play to get the Tigers within 41-35 with 13:22 remaining. He then stole a pass from Texas A&M’s Blake McDonald on the next possession, which led to a dunk by Williams.
Jones’ plays highlighted a 12-2 Missouri run that narrowed the deficit to 43-42 with 9:16 remaining. But Jamal Jones’ steal and fast break layup ended the streak, and the teams traded baskets until the final seconds.
Torren Jones finished with five points after garnering a career-high eight in last Saturday’s 85-66 win against Mississippi State. Senior Tony Criswell added two in his last regular-season home game.
“Senior nights are tough, because it takes you out of your normal routine and rhythm,” Haith said. “I thought we came out really not focused in terms of intensity. There are soft moments with senior night. But we needed to refocus ourselves, and it took us awhile to get refocused.”
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