If Jordan Barnett has looked comfortable recently, it’s because he is.
It’s not that Barnett wasn’t comfortable when he transferred to Missouri from Texas in December 2015. But everything that people expected from the once highly touted recruit from Christian Brothers College in St. Louis is now coming to fruition.
He’s knocking down shots from deep at a high rate, 43 percent.
He’s converting inside, whether on dunks, drives or acrobatic offensive putbacks like he had in the first half of Saturday’s game off of a Kevin Puryear jumpshot, at a 49 percent clip. On top of that, he’s a 92 percent free-throw shooter.
All of it adds up to a career season for Barnett. Asked the last time he has felt this confident, he said, “I couldn’t tell you, honestly. I’m just in a place right now where I’m really confident in myself and my shooting ability. I think it’s really showing on the court.”
This isn’t the first time Mizzou Arena has seen this type of production from Barnett. Many will remember his back-to-back 23-point performances at Texas A&M and at home against Vanderbilt, last season.
Junior Kevin Puryear’s memory goes back a bit further, though. On Tuesday, he recalled Barnett’s 43-point and 20-rebound performance in the 2014 Class 5 boys championship game at Mizzou Arena.
He led CBC to an 86-77 win over a Hickman team led by current SMU guard Jimmy Whitt. In that game, Barnett shot 15 of 22 from the field and made 12 of 15 free throws.
“He’s been doing impressive things like that since he was in high school,” Puryear said.
After his most recent showing, a career-high 28-point performance against Florida, Florida coach Mike White said he thought Barnett was one of the most improved players in the conference.
“Last year, we knew what Jordan Barnett was capable of,” Puryear said. “I think he really could’ve been that player last year for us, but this year, this is his last go around, he wants to go out on top, and he is definitely playing like it.”
In the last 10 games, Barnett has put up numbers that are difficult to replicate even in a video game. He’s averaging 19.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, is shooting 51 percent from deep to pair with a 53 percent total field-goal percentage.
He has had three double-doubles and was one rebound away Saturday from picking up his fourth.
Barnett said he feels like he is getting more good looks this year. Part of that is because of the threat Missouri’s bigs pose in the post.
“Jontay” Porter “has been extremely good at finding me, not just myself but other players, too, to get me good shots. Having guys that demand that much attention opens things for our guards,” Barnett said. “We try to play inside-out, and, when we do this, we are at our best.”
White echoed his thoughts about Barnett on Monday’s SEC teleconference. It’s surely something other coaches around the league will watch.
But just as Missouri’s offense opens things up for Barnett, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin believes if people deny Barnett, it will open things for others.
“Something has to give when a guy is shooting the ball like that. If you want to hug him, then our bigs have a chance to make one-on-one plays, if not, then we will make adjustments in other areas,” Martin said. “For him, he is just playing basketball. He is making shots.”
And nobody’s been able to stop him yet.
MOVING ON: Puryear was honest Tuesday when asked how long it took the team to move on after Saturday’s loss.
“The next morning, I was pretty pissed off about it still,” he said. “Once we got to practice, started working through drills, it was over with. Coach Martin told us to put that game in the past, so we did. SEC play is a quick turnaround.”
The team had Sunday off before returning to practice Monday in preparation for Georgia (11-3, 2-1). Martin said the pain of losing can be a lesson of its own, but it can’t be something the team thinks about for days.
“Embrace that pain, whatever it is you learn from it, and move forward. You can’t allow it to hang on you for days and days. You have to get over it and then continue to grow,” Martin said on Monday’s teleconference. “That’s part of the sport.”
Georgia will pose a threat to the Tigers in more ways than one, but the biggest is post player Yante Maten. The preseason Co-SEC Player of the Year is averaging 20 points, 9.4 rebounds and draws 6.6 fouls per 40 minutes.
Barnett said the team is going to have to chip in on slowing Maten.
“We will all have to help, for sure. He is an extremely talented and physical player. He could potentially get our bigs in foul trouble, so we definitely have to help out. But it also comes down to them being strong and physical with him, matching his physicality,” Barnett said. “He is really going to bring it, for sure. If we can slow him down, we have a really good chance to win this game.”
MPJ UPDATE: Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who has played just two minutes this season because of a back injury, said last week that he would be returning to Dallas for an update on his rehab, and he expected to be cleared for more activities.
At Tuesday's media availability, Porter was not available, but Martin said that he is not practicing with the team. Porter is still doing treatment, and Martin added that he imagines he is shooting on his own but reiterated that he is not doing anything with the team.