Missouri top remaining team at Big 12 men's basketball tournament

Friday, March 13, 2009 | 12:07 a.m. CDT; updated 11:45 p.m. CDT, Friday, March 13, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY — Thursday was a bad day for teams with byes at the Big 12 Conference men's basketball tournament. Well, except for the Missouri Tigers.

Top-seeded Kansas, No. 2-seed Oklahoma and No. 4-seed Kansas State all fell victim to upsets Thursday.

Only the Tigers, the tournament's No. 3-seed, were able to win after not playing Wednesday.

With its 81-60 win over Texas Tech, No. 14 Missouri is the only ranked team left in the tournament.

Coming to Oklahoma City, Missouri coach Mike Anderson worried that having the bye might actually be a disadvantage. According to Anderson's theory, the teams that won Wednesday would be in a rhythm and high on confidence. The teams with byes would be rusty after not playing for four days.

Anderson's foresight was impeccable.

The biggest surprise of the day came in the first game. No. 11 Kansas, the conference's regular season champion, came out flat, falling behind early and losing 71-64 to Baylor. The Bears were 5-11 in conference play during the season.

Even in what ended up an easy win, Missouri started sluggish. The Tigers trailed by as many as eight points early in the game before blowing out the Red Raiders in the second half.

"Having almost a week off we just had to get the rust off," junior guard J.T. Tiller said. But unlike the conference's other top teams, Missouri rebounding from its slow start.

In the final minute of their games, the tournament's other three top seeds were fighting unsuccessfully to overcome deficits. By the final minute of its game, Missouri was just having fun.

Seniors Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll, who had already gone to the bench, screamed at sophomore Justin Safford to pass the ball to walk-on Jarrett Sutton. Lyons and Carroll shared a laugh on the sideline as Safford dribbled out the clock on the first win in the Big 12 tournament for any Missouri player.

"It's the first time I've been to the second round of the tournament since I've been here, and I didn't even have to play the first game," senior Matt Lawrence said. "To win the first game since we've been here, it's tremendous."

But there isn't much time to celebrate. Missouri is back in action Friday night.

With the other favorites eliminated, Missouri is 3-0 against the three other teams remaining in the tournament.

The Tigers are the highest seed left standing, but Anderson said he doesn't think the seeds matter much anymore.

"Our league has been so balanced this year that it's very typical of what took place today and yesterday. On any given night, anyone can beat anyone," Anderson said.

At 8:30 Friday night, Missouri faces Oklahoma State in what will essentially be a road game for the Tigers at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. It will be a major adjustment for Missouri, after playing in front of a mostly indifferent crowd full of leftover fans from the game between in-state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on Thursday.

The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in college basketball.  They enter tonight's game with Missouri having won eight of their past nine games, including a 71-70 win over No. 6 Oklahoma in Thursday's quarterfinals.

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