COLUMBIA – It couldn’t have come at a worse time for a such a needed player.
Missouri men’s basketball coach Mike Anderson announced Thursday that forward Justin Safford has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, depleting the Tigers’ already thin group of forwards three games before postseason play. Safford had eight points in just seven minutes before getting hurt Wednesday. He is the Tigers' fourth-leading scorer (8.6 points per game) and third-leading rebounder (4.1 per game).
The junior landed awkwardly after making a layup during Missouri’s win against Colorado on Wednesday. He fell to the floor clutching his left knee and gritting his teeth. After about a minute, Missouri trainer Pat Beckmann helped him up and Safford gingerly walked to the locker room.
Shortly afterward, Safford returned to the bench under his own power. But the injury turned out to be as serious as it looked.
A release from the Missouri athletics department said Safford’s injury “will be reassessed next week and a determination on treatment options will be made at that time.”
Safford will not play in Missouri’s game Saturday at Kansas State, though he has not been ruled out for the season. Richard White, an MU assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, said it is not common for a player to return quickly from an ACL tear.
“If they’re talking about an ACL injury, as a rule, then usually they’re not going to get back (soon),” White said Thursday in a phone interview.
Purdue’s Robbie Hummel suffered the same injury in a game against Minnesota on Wednesday, and Purdue declared Hummel out for the season on Thursday.
White said an ACL tear always leads to instability in the knee, and playing on it could lead to further injury.
“The knee could slip around, shift around on you in an abnormal motion,” White said. “And if the person is unstable and they continue to pivot and shift, then they run the risk of beating up other things in the knee such as the meniscus and cartilage and things of that nature.”
White said an ACL tear usually requires surgery.
With Safford likely done for the season, fellow big men Keith Ramsey and Laurence Bowers will be expected to play even more, but Missouri will also need help from somebody else.
The obvious option is Steve Moore, who has become a useful big body this season and averages just under 10 minutes of playing time. But in order to give Ramsey and Bowers enough rest, Missouri could also need some type of contribution from one of its rarely-used freshman forwards, John Underwood and Tyler Stone. Both average about four minutes, and neither has played in a game when the result was still in doubt.