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Tray Jackson thrives in “do-or-die” minutes

The freshman played in his most crucial minutes so far this season, stepping up for Missouri when Reed Nikko fouled out

Photo courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

Tray Jackson has shown plenty of flashes of his potential during his freshman season.

Jackson has averages just 2.7 PPG in less than eight minutes a game, but he’s given fans glimpses of what he can do as a forward in the extremely athletic SEC.

With Jeremiah Tilmon out Saturday and Missouri facing a talented Arkansas squad, Jackson’s number was called more often, and he delivered.

Jackson finished with nine points, six of them coming off of thunderous dunks that launched Missouri’s biggest crowd of the season to its feet.

His most important dunk was not his most impressive, but it came when his team needed it most.

Missouri raced out to a 79-72 lead in the overtime period, and seemed to have control of the game before Arkansas got back in it.

A three pointer from Desi Sills with just over 30 seconds left cut the lead to 79-77, and it felt like it might be slipping away for Missouri.

Enter the connection from Xavier Pinson to Jackson. The point guard lobbed a perfect pass to the forward, who threw down the alley oop to put the Tigers back up by four.

Now, about his most impressive dunk of the afternoon. Man, oh man, did he throw it down. As clocked ticked down at the end of the first half, Jackson received the ball with a clear lane to the basket, a major mistake on Arkansas’ part defensively.

Jackson galloped to the rim through the zone and threw down a one handed tomahawk dunk with a foul. “I see Tray do that all the time in practice,” Mitchell Smith said after the game. “He’s got to show everybody else that he can do that. He was aggressive today.”

It certainly begs the question, why doesn’t Jackson play more? Martin answered that in his postgame press conference, saying the freshman has to improve his conditioning to see the floor more and stay on it.

“He’s a talented player,” Cuonzo Martin said. “He’s got to improve his conditioning. You watch him getting winded fast. I think that’s what he’s working toward.”

Jackson saw spot minutes for most of the day, but the game was a foul fest, and Reed Nikko eventually succumbed to foul trouble. Jackson has been significantly exposed to what Martin called “do-or-die” minutes, but was preparing mentally for the test even before Nikko fouled out.

As soon as he (Nikko) got his fourth, before he even fouled out, my teammates were letting me know to be focused and be ready,” Jackson said.

In addition to his nine points, the freshman from Detroit collected four rebounds in 15 total minutes, the second most he has seen this season.

When his conditioning is up to par, Jackson certainly appears to be able to score the ball against SEC defenses. His teammates have consistently spoken about his ability in the practice gym.

Missouri is now 5-0 in the annual Rally for Rhyan game, and this year’s edition has plenty of Tray Jackson highlight reel dunks to be remembered by.