Missouri's Jordan Clarkson and North Carolina State's T.J. Warren lead their respective conferences in scoring while helping guide their teams to solid starts.
The 25th-ranked Tigers look to bounce back from their lone defeat Saturday night when they visit a Wolfpack team seeking an eighth straight victory.Clarkson, a 6-foot-5 junior guard in his first season with Missouri (10-1) after transferring from Tulsa, is averaging an SEC-best 19.9 points while scoring at least 21 in six of his last seven contests.He finished with 25 points and a career-high eight assists last Saturday, but the Tigers fell 65-64 to Illinois in St. Louis on a pair of free throws with 4.6 seconds remaining. Jabari Brown hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 14.9 seconds left.Missouri finished with its lowest point total of the season for the second straight game."We just had to make a play," Clarkson said. "We had to make a stop at the end of the game. We just didn't finish the game the way we wanted to."Coach Frank Haith's team committed 14 turnovers and is averaging 15.3 over its last four. Saturday marks the Tigers' first true road game of the season."It's tough to lose a game like this," Haith said. "There's going to be a lot of things we'll look back on, but I thought our guys gave great effort. The loose balls there (down the stretch), and then the turnovers in the first half were tough too."The Tigers face another tough challenge in trying to contain Warren, who is averaging 23.9 points to top the ACC. The sophomore forward has scored at least 30 three times, including a career-high 32 in last Saturday's 90-79 win over East Carolina.N.C. State (9-2) hasn't lost since being stunned at home 82-72 in overtime by North Carolina Central on Nov. 20. It hasn't won eight in a row since the start of the 2004-05 season.The current streak has coincided with the return of 7-foot-1 senior Jordan Vandenberg, who missed the first four games with a left ankle sprain. Vandenberg hit 9 of 10 from the field and finished with a career-high 18 points against the Pirates, and coach Mark Gottfried said the center's play has helped Warren be even more productive."I played T.J. inside a lot more (during the first four games)," Gottfried said. "It allows T.J. to play on the wing and allows him to get out on the break and defend a wing player instead of a post player. We are a better team with that lineup."Vandenberg is the lone senior on a roster that features six freshmen, though Gottfried knows youth won't be an excuse if the Wolfpack fail to have a successful season.N.C. State is shooting 49.7 percent, second in the conference."They are youthful and they are anxious to learn. I like that about our team," Gottfried said. "Our Wolfpack Nation wants to win. They don't care how young we are. Hopefully we can get better and hopefully we can keep improving and take things day by day."These teams haven't met since N.C. State beat Missouri 87-68 at the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii on Dec. 29, 1995.