OKLAHOMA CITY — It was a long, difficult road to the Big 12 tournament title for Missouri's three senior starters, but the final minute couldn't have been much easier.
DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence spent the first 39 minutes earning the Tigers' 73-60 win over the Baylor Bears on Saturday in Oklahoma City. The last 60 seconds were merely a formality.
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.
"It was a great moment," said Carroll, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player. "We really couldn't look at the last 60 seconds. We had to wait until it got to zero. Coach said 'It's not over yet'. He kept saying 'It's not over'."
But body language of the players on the floor said otherwise. After Baylor's Curtis Jerrells went the length of the floor and missed an uncontested layup, Lawrence held onto the ball as the clock ran down.
With about 30 seconds left, Lyons, who has been suspended three different times in his four-year career, exchanged smiles with Missouri coach Mike Anderson. Five minutes earlier, Anderson pulled Lyons out of the game after the senior made a careless pass.
"Most people aren't used to seeing us over there laughing and things like that," said Lyons, who finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. "But I know I made a mistake at the end of the game. He came over there, he told me he loved me. It was pretty emotional, I said I loved him back and the game ended."
Although Lawrence was the only player to score more than 10 points in all three games at the Big 12 tournament, Carroll was the clear leader for the Tigers. He led the team in minutes and averaged 14 points and seven rebounds per game.
"He's the Energizer bunny out there," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I think he could have played eight games in eight days. Him and Lyons are as tough a matchup as you're going to find in the country because they can do it both inside and outside, they can guard anybody. So, we're glad they're both graduating."
After two years at Vanderbilt, Carroll transferred to Missouri and sat out the 2006-2007 season before his final two years of eligibility. Anderson said the Birmingham, Ala., native never seemed to waver in his commitment and dedication to the program, but Carroll admitted he had some doubts.
"Once I transferred here, everything started going wrong and I was just looking around like, 'Man, what did I get myself into?'," Carroll said. "But my uncle told me to just keep having faith and the sun will come up at the end. I got shot, we lost a lot of games. But look at me now, I'm standing here smiling, a Big 12 champion."
Carroll, Lyons and Lawrence were the only three Tigers in double figures on Saturday. They also led Missouri in scoring over the three games in Oklahoma City that ended with Missouri capturing the school's first Big 12 title in a men's team sport.
"Obviously these seniors are very, very important to our basketball team," Anderson said. "I think they have shown the young guys the way."
Anderson wasn't just referring to the three seniors who finished the game on the court. His son, Mike Anderson, Jr., was experiencing some of the same emotions during the final minute as he stood anxiously in front of his seat on Missouri's bench.
"I was ready to burst onto the court," Anderson, Jr. said. "As soon as I saw the clock go :00, as soon as I saw Matt throw it in the air, I was out there."
With seven newcomers, the seniors knew they would have to lead the way into uncharted territory in the Big 12 tournament. As the Tigers kept on winning, the seniors maintained that role in situations unfamiliar to everyone on the roster.
"(Anderson) stressed before we came to the tournament that we've got to lead," Carroll said. "We can't just lead when everything's going good, we've got to lead when things are going bad and you saw we got down by some and we just kept huddling up and trying to stay together."
Of course, junior guards Zaire Taylor and J.T. Tiller gave the Tigers plenty of valuable minutes, and Taylor was named to the All-Tournament team. Off the bench, six different Tigers followed the example of the upperclassmen and made sure the starters remained well-rested.
"When we played OU (on senior night), the seniors wouldn't allow us to lose that game," freshman guard Kim English said. "They were going to will us. So I just told DeMarre, Leo, Mike and Matt, show us the way and we'll follow. I will give everything I have to give them the best senior year possible."
Today, the No. 14 Tigers will find out what team they play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Missouri will get four or five days to prepare for its next opponent.
Eventually, the clock will run out for a final time on these four seniors. English doesn't want to imagine what the team will be like without them.
"I'll think about that in April," English said. "Right now, I'm thinking about Sunday and seeing who we're going to play on Thursday."