OKLAHOMA CITY — Matt Lawrence heaved the ball toward the ceiling as the buzzer sounded. Before the ball ever hit the ground, orange cannons shot rainbow-colored confetti onto the court.
Before they knew what was happening, T-shirts and hats were shoved into the players' hands.
The NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket will be announced at 5 p.m. Sunday on KRCG/Channel 13.
The 28-6 Missouri Tigers, with the Big 12 Conference tournament championship now on their resume, will learn then where they fit into the NCAA bracket.
The team congregated on the left side of the floor near the sideline. The huddle of players jumped up and down, screaming and holding their hands above their heads with their index fingers pointing toward the ceiling.
The Tigers were No. 1. Champions of the Big 12 tournament.
As if they needed a reminder of what they had just accomplished, that word, "Champions," was written in bold blue letters everywhere. It was on the hats. It was on the T-shirts. It was even on the ladders the Tigers used to cut down the nets.
Several players carried cardboard signs declaring that the Tigers were champs.
"It's a beautiful feeling," guard J.T. Tiller said. "It was just a feeling of accomplishment."
Big 12 staff quickly assembled a stage at center court where Missouri coach Mike Anderson was presented with the Big 12 tournament championship trophy. He hoisted it above his head as cameras flashed around the arena. Players linked arms behind their leader in a sign of solidarity. Anderson calls his players the "ultimate team."
"M-I-Z!" Anderson shouted into the microphone with a wide smile. "Z-O-U," the crowd responded.
"How 'bout them Tigers!" he said, as fans stood and applauded.
After a few moments, he passed the trophy off to senior Matt Lawrence, who raised it above his head and turned to show the other side of the arena.
"Coach Anderson has been nothing but honest with us, saying he is going to bring a championship to this school," Lawrence said in the postgame news conference. "Not many people believed him except those 14 guys in the locker room and our coaching staff."
After the trophy presentation, the confetti started flying again. This time it came from several other orange cannons stationed around the arena in the stands. The floor, the players and everything else was littered with the strips of tissue paper.
As the celebration proceeded, it seemed like players wanted to hold onto each moment. After a long, tough journey, they wanted to make the celebration long too.
As players moved toward the basket to start cutting down the net, senior DeMarre Carroll, the tournament's most outstanding player, looked like he didn't want to leave the stage. He stood there by himself holding the trophy for a few minutes, before finally relinquishing his spot a few feet above everyone else.
After the cannons ran out of confetti, forward Keith Ramsey picked fistfuls of it off the floor and hurled it into the air, trying to keep his grasp on that fleeting moment of elation.
Coaches and players cut down the net in tiny pieces, dragging out the process of removing it from the rim. Senior Leo Lyons, the first player to snip a piece of the net, climbed up the ladder slowly, pausing on each rung to absorb the moment.
When his turn came, Lawrence paused for a moment at the top of the ladder, pumping his fist in the direction of a section of Missouri fans. He tucked his small piece of string behind his ear.
Freshman guard Miguel Paul danced on his way down the ladder, shimmying his hips with each step.
Once the net was free from the rim, senior Michael Anderson Jr. put it over his head and wore it as a necklace.
"Man, we worked so hard to get to this point," Anderson Jr. said. "People don't know how hard it's been."
Everyone hugged. Anderson hugged Lyons and Carroll. Players hugged each other. Lawrence hugged the team's managers, who also wore Big 12 Champions T-shirts and hats. Freshman Kim English even hugged a few reporters, thanking them for making the trip to Oklahoma City.
Players held on to every little piece of the celebration they could. Junior Zaire Taylor, a member of the all-tournament team, even snagged the paper card with his name on it from the postgame press conference.
After the game, players struggled to put their emotions after the game into words. They didn't really need to. Their celebration said it all.
Before they walked back into the locker room, the team gathered in one more huddle. They all lifted their arms together in the center. "Championship on three," one player yelled out from inside the group.
"Championship," they all yelled together.