Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Things hadn’t been going smoothly for the Missouri men’s basketball team, but the road got tougher Tuesday when sophomore guard Wes Clark dislocated his elbow in a 65-60 loss to South Carolina. Clark will miss the remainder of the season with the injury.
“He’s played with a great deal of determination and effort, and I think he’s improved, so I felt bad for Wes,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “Certainly it affects our team, but you just have to, as we have done all year … just kind of pick it up and keep going and try to figure out how we can keep going and maybe win a game.”
A win at home today against Mississippi State (3 p.m., ESPNU) would be the Tigers’ first since Jan. 8. After beginning Southeastern Conference play with an overtime win against LSU, Missouri has been on a 10-game losing streak, the team’s longest since 1966-67.
And it won’t get any easier. The team was already without freshmen Montaque Gill-Caesar, Namon Wright and Tramaine Isabell, who have been suspended a combined eight games. Their status for today’s game is uncertain.
Without Clark, the suspended freshmen and Deuce Bello, who fouled out, the Tigers finished Tuesday’s game with six available scholarship players.
Clark had been the team’s leading scorer in SEC play, averaging 11.7 points per game. His 1.7 steals per game were fifth in the conference.
“Wes was a guy who emerged as a leader a little bit on our team, at least on the floor,” Anderson said. “He had really been a guy who had created a positive impact, and so I think our guys kind of gravitated toward that.”
Anderson does not expect Clark to need surgery or suffer any long-term effects, and he said the recovery process will take 6-8 weeks.
Senior guard Keith Shamburger, Clark’s roommate, said the sophomore is remaining positive.
“His mood is up high,” Shamburger said. “That’s the good thing about Wes. He’s staying real confident about everything, and this is just going to make Wes a better player, make him stronger. He probably won’t dive for a loose ball probably for a long time, but I’m pretty sure it will make him a way stronger player, and he’s going to come back better.”
Shamburger, already the team leader in minutes, won’t be seeing the bench much during the remainder of his college career. Without Gill-Caesar, Wright and Isabell, he is the team’s only true ballhandler. Even if the freshmen return, Shamburger will see the lion’s share of point-guard duties, as he has all season.
“Keith’ll be the guy,” Anderson said. “And depending on who’s available to play, we’ll have some other guys prepared to handle the basketball some. But that is certainly a major concern for us.”
Shamburger said he’ll have to make up for some of the shooting Clark provided on offense. Shamburger had already said in recent weeks he needed to be more aggressive offensively.
“I’m going to have to go back to my San Jose days, where I really had to be aggressive and get the ball in the basket,” said Shamburger, who played at San Jose State and Hawaii before transferring to Missouri. “I had to do that in many ways, and I’m going to have to do that again.”
The team was already struggling offensively and has averaged 61.3 points per game, 314th in the nation.
If the freshmen remain suspended, Bello, who got his first start as a Tiger against South Carolina, will likely see an increased role.
“I think really everybody has to step up, including the bigs also, since we have Wes out,” said Bello, a junior transfer from Baylor. “Wes was a big part of our team.”
Though Clark won’t return to the court, Anderson said he plans for the sophomore to remain in close contact with the team. Clark showed up to Mizzou Arena with his arm in a sling Thursday before the Tigers’ practice, and Shamburger said he has encouraged Clark to sit at the front of the bench during games.
“He can still be a coach on the floor,” Shamburger said. “Just being right there with us. Just people listening to him and him just having positive encouragement, that’s going to help us a lot now.”
Shamburger said the way Clark was injured, diving for a ball in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, was meaningful to the senior, and the duo enjoyed their limited time shared on the court.
“(Clark) told me the other day that it was fun playing in the backcourt this year with just me and him,” Shamburger said. “We wish it could’ve happened one more year, but unfortunately it’s going to end here. Just got to learn from it and keep moving forward.”