OKLAHOMA CITY — No one said winning at the Big 12 Championship tournament was pretty.
The No. 3 Missouri men’s basketball team learned that lesson firsthand Friday night, as the Tigers outlasted the No. 7 Oklahoma State Cowboys, 67-59, in a fast-paced, physical and sometimes ugly battle at the Ford Center. But ugly or not, the win means the Tigers are now one victory away from a Big 12 title.
“I guess the motto is always ‘survive and advance,’” coach Mike Anderson said. “And that’s what we did. We survived tonight.”
As far as shooting percentages were concerned, it couldn’t have gotten much uglier in the first half. Missouri shot 25.8 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from 3-point range in the first half, while Oklahoma State shot 30 percent and zero percent in the same categories.
“Offense can come and go,” Anderson said. "I’m gonna tell y’all, it went south tonight,”
For the majority of the game, Missouri could not penetrate Oklahoma State’s 2-3 zone. As a result, the Tigers settled for slew of jump shots, including forcing up 31 3-point attempts.
The last time Missouri attempted 30-plus 3-pointers was on Nov. 17 against Chattanooga. After the game, several reporters inquired about Missouri’s reliance on the 3-ball against Oklahoma State.
“I think Leo (Lyons) set a screen for me, and they went under the screen. Typically when you go under the screen, that gives you the shot,” junior guard Zaire Taylor said. “I felt like they didn’t respect me as a shooter, and I missed that first one, but after that first one things started to go in my favor a little bit.”
Taylor led Missouri with 19 points on a night where shooting came easy for no one. It’s the same story in another location for Taylor, who continues to build on his reputation as a big-game player.
“Everybody has that feeling of wanting to be in that atmosphere,” Taylor said of big games like Friday night. “As student athletes on this stage, we all get a chance to feel it, and, I mean, that’s what we live for.”
Before the game, many observers questioned what role fatigue would play in determining the outcome. Whereas Missouri was playing in its second game thanks to a first-round bye, Oklahoma State was playing its third game in three days.
“I thought they wore down,” Anderson said of Oklahoma State. “I thought conditioning played a big part in this game.”
For awhile, it appeared as if Oklahoma State had lost one of its key leaders — senior guard Byron Eaton — for the game with an apparent ankle or foot injury. Eaton was called for a traveling violation while falling to the floor between two Missouri defenders, remaining on the floor writhing in pain.
Eaton played 10 minutes in the first half before getting injured and left the floor without putting any weight on the injured side of his lower body. But when the second half started, Eaton returned to the floor to a standing ovation from the pro-Oklahoma State crowd.
“What can you say about Eaton?” Anderson said. “He has the heart of a lion.”
Yet, for all the heart Eaton and his Cowboy teammates showed, it was Missouri’s ability to answer every Oklahoma State blow that made the difference. Missouri’s responses helped quiet a crowd of 15,009 that was nearly all in favor of Oklahoma State, turning the Ford Center into a de facto Gallagher-Iba Arena south.
“To our guys’ credit, we answered every call,” Anderson said.
Missouri now advances to Saturday evening’s Big 12 Championship final to face No. 9 Baylor, who has rung up consecutive upsets against No. 8 Nebraska, No. 1 Kansas and No. 5 Texas in three consecutive days.