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Survival becomes the motto for Missouri men's basketball team

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 1:14 a.m. CST; updated 4:57 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011
Missouri senior Justin Safford moves toward the basket during the second half of the Tigers' Big 12 tournament opening game. Safford finished with 10 points, his best game since Feb. 12.

CORRECTIONS: *Laurence Bowers was speaking after the win Wednesday night. An earlier version said the MU Tigers lost the game.

**Texas A&M is located in College Station, Texas. An earlier version incorrectly stated the location.

KANSAS CITY — The fan said it best as Melvin Watkins walked away.

A Missouri men's basketball fan had just congratulated Missouri's associate head coach on the team's 88-84 win over Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday. He told the coach, "Good job." Then he offered one word, a piece of advice — or perhaps, a plea. 

"Survive."

The word was thrown around often after Missouri saw a comfortable 13-point second half advantage over Texas Tech erode into a narrow, pull-your-hair, bite-your-nails escape.

During parts of the game, Missouri's lead rose like a wave, but in the final moments, that wave came crashing down. Missouri was struggling to stay afloat. The team was trying to find a way to survive.

Survival was on Missouri forward Laurence Bowers' mind when he secured the rebound that ultimately won the game.

Texas Tech guard John Roberson scored 28 points in an inspired effort dedicated to his recently-fired coach Pat Knight.

But a rare Roberson miss was Missouri's ticket to advance.

Wrapped in a wet towel in Missouri's locker room after the win Wednesday night,* Bowers didn't try to hide his disappointment in his own performance. Burdened with fouls, he watched his team rise and fall. His game-clinching rebound was his only significant play. 

"When I got the rebound I knew I kind of sealed it," Bowers said. "I felt like I actually did something instead of hurt the team all night."

With Bowers only playing 14 minutes, Missouri relied on other contributors.

Marcus Denmon scored a reliable 20 points, but other players helped, too.

Michael Dixon Jr. made his first start since the Jan. 29 Texas game and scored 17 points.

Kim English got some lucky bounces for the first time in a long time. His shots dropped in instead of stopping short.

Even Justin Safford showed up, redeeming himself from his senior-night slump against Kansas last week with baby-soft jumpers and a hard left-handed slam that hadn't been seen all season.

But Texas Tech kept coming back. The players who played solidly for Missouri couldn't hold off the rambunctious Red Raiders.

"We started pressing them. We were able to get a lot of turnovers after that, capitalize and score," Knight said.

Missouri's lead vanished, and the Tigers had to scramble.

"We struggle to close out games, but we found a way tonight," Bowers said. "All is well."

Yes, all was well for Missouri late Wednesday evening, but a No. 3-seed Texas A&M is waiting for its shot at the Tigers now. Missouri already knows what it's like to lose to the team it will face on Thursday thanks to an overtime loss in College Station, Texas,** earlier this season.

Bowers said loss is in his mind, but it stays toward the back. Survival is more important than revenge.

The Tigers play Texas A&M at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.


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