The Missouri offense bounced back from a dismal performance against Kansas as a balanced scoring attack surged the Tigers to a narrow 88-84 victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday. The win propels the Tigers to a second round matchup against the Texas A&M Aggies in the Big 12 Championship Tournament.
Missouri got production across the board, with four players scoring in double digits on the night. Senior forward Justin Safford and junior guard Kim English each stepped up for the young Tiger squad, combining for 25 points in the victory. The two veterans had yet to find a groove this season, but coach Mike Anderson was pleased with the play of the “unsung heroes”.
“The more guys we have stepping up for us and doing things for us, the more dangerous team we are,” Anderson said. “So it’s good that you can go to your bench and those guys can come in and give us some key moments. That’s the tale of the play, you’re going to have some unsung heroes and I’m looking forward to it.”
Junior guard and All-Big 12 first team selection Marcus Denmon said the play of Safford, who has struggled all year after returning from ACL surgery, was key in the Tiger victory.
“He was huge for us,” said Denmon, who finished with a team-high 20 points. “I mean, Justin’s our senior out there. We got a couple of guys in foul trouble early and I felt that he came in and he was the difference in the first half. He had a lot of energy, and he was in there battling.”
The strong play of Safford and English compensated for the off night of junior forward Laurence Bowers, who was plagued with foul trouble throughout the game. After putting up big numbers offensively and on the glass throughout conference play, Bowers was limited to just four points and six rebounds in only 14 minutes.
Less than a week after a rough shooting performance against Kansas, Missouri came out firing in the first half. The Tigers scored more field goals (20) in the first half than in the entire game against the Jayhawks. Missouri finished the game shooting 46.3 percent from the field, as well as a stellar 7 of 15 from long range.
Despite the Tiger offensive improvements, the Red Raiders refused to go away, led by the strong play of guard John Roberson. The senior poured in a game-high 28 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 6 of 11 from beyond the arc.
With the Tigers up by 13 points with just over five minutes remaining, the Red Raiders went on a furious 13-2 run to cut the deficit to two points. Anderson said he was unhappy with how his squad closed the game despite the victory.
“I’m not going to let them relax too much,” Anderson said. “The reason why is I thought even in this game here, we didn’t finish the way this team is capable of finishing. I mean, we had more turnovers right there in the end than we did the whole second half, and when you’re an attacking team, you play to win. So that’s another lesson we can learn.”
Anderson earned his 200th career coaching victory with the win over the Red Raiders.
The Tigers advance to take on the Aggies Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Missouri dropped the regular season road contest in overtime, and English said the second round matchup should be extremely physical.
“They take pride in playing hard-nosed basketball,” English said. “They beat us the last two years and more importantly this year in college station. We have to bring our hard hats tomorrow because it’s going to be a battle inside.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.