COLUMBIA — Michael Dixon nudged Marcus Denmon and directed Denmon's attention to a stat sheet with the game's statistics that sat on the table in front of them. Dixon shook his head in disapproval at the numbers. Ricky Kreklow sat to their left with a blank expression on his face. From the three players’ appearances, it was hard to tell the Missouri men’s basketball team had just won a game.
"I think they know they could have played a lot better. I think defensively, especially," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said behind the same table minutes after his players exited.
"There was a period there where we were really getting ready to pull ahead of this team and then we gave up some assignments and were getting slow in rotation, and they were getting layups at the other end. That's probably the part they were disappointed in," Anderson said.
On the night Missouri defeated Texas Tech 92-84 and saw its leading scorer reach 1,000 career points, good defense was hard to come by. On its home court against one of the weakest teams in the Big 12 Conference, No. 20 Missouri simply relied on outscoring Texas Tech to get the win.
The Red Raiders had multiple chances to secure an upset but failed to capitalize. Texas Tech coach Pat Knight couldn't be disappointed in his team. It had kept its chance alive.
“You’ve got to go at them (Missouri) head on. We did that, and I think we came close,” Knight said.
Texas Tech’s final chance came in the final few minutes Tuesday night. With 3:41 left to play, Missouri committed a slew of turnovers that led to a 3-point difference with 1:15 left to play. Dixon turned the ball over twice. Then Phil Pressey did the same. Finally, the Red Raiders took advantage of the Tigers’ sloppiness when John Roberson hit a 3-pointer to pull within 87-84. But, Laurence Bowers rebounded his own miss and put it back for a score on the next Missouri possession to prevent any chance of an upset.
The game itself followed a similar pattern. Missouri did only what it needed to keep Texas Tech at bay. The team — and the atmosphere in the building itself — was flat from the start.
“It just wasn’t there. When you walk in the arena, it just seemed like, you know, you’re playing Texas Tech, let’s go play and get the game over with. I told our guys there’s a sense of urgency in every game," Anderson said.
Missouri’s offense ran smoothly enough to start the game. Marcus Denmon poured in points as he drew near, and eventually passed, the mark for 1,000 career points.
Missouri’s offense, however, was not the issue. It was its defense that gave away points as fast as the Tigers could score. Texas Tech made nearly 50 percent of its shots.
“With us being a defensive team, we pride ourselves in really trying to keep teams' shooting percentages down. So, that’s something that we need to continue to work on every day at practice,” Denmon said.
Denmon scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half, but Texas Tech continued to answer at the other end. Whether Denmon stepped back to strike a 3-pointer, or drove the lane for a running bank shot, his boost would only last temporarily. Texas Tech guards John Roberson and David Tairu held their own in the scoring category, combining for 38 points.
In the second half, Texas Tech focused in on Denmon.
“We didn’t do a good job the first half. He had 18 the first half. Then we changed our defensive philosophy and really paid attention to him the second half,” Knight said.
When Denmon’s scoring sloped, other players picked up the load. Kim English drove and reached the free-throw line time and time again, Dixon found his stroke and Kreklow turned in a second consecutive game with seven points.
But Missouri’s defense, or lack thereof, let Texas Tech players get up the court quickly for easy shots that kept the idea of an upset fresh in the Red Raiders' minds.
During timeouts, Anderson would hold his dry-erase board at his side, but he rarely drew a detailed play. Often, his black marker took the role of a baton that lunged out toward his players as he urged them to tighten up defensively.
“We put them on the free-throw line, and we gave them easy, easy chances at the basket to score. He was just trying to tell us that we need to get stops,” Denmon said.
In the end, Missouri made just enough stops. After Bowers' rebound and score, Texas Tech had to resort to fouling, and Missouri did enough at the free-throw line to secure the win.
“We aren’t proud of giving up 84 points, but sometimes you’ve got to grit it out. It’s always good to get a win,” Denmon said.
The statement echoed from Anderson and his players more than once, in multiple ways. It's better to learn from a win than it is from a loss.
Or, as English said to a group of reporters outside of the media conference room:
"Coach Anderson says a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk."