Justin Safford played the most minutes of any Mizzou forward in Wednesday's win over Texas Tech. (File photo by Karen Mitchell)
KANSAS CITY–With Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe in foul trouble, Justin Safford and Steve Moore stepped up to buoy Mizzou in an 88-84 win over Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 Championship Wednesday night at Sprint Center.
While neither had a particularly impressive stat line, both gave Mizzou incredibly valuable minutes in the first and second half. Safford show 5-10 from the floor for 10 points while grabbing four rebounds and Moore went 3-4 for six points and two rebounds, but Safford logged more minutes (27) than Ratliffe (23) and Moore (15) more than Bowers (14).
But it was Safford who had the greatest impact, especially in the first half. During a 15-5 run between the seven and three minute marks in the half, Safford scored six points (Marcus Denmon added eight in that stretch).
Safford deflected attention away from himself after the game, answering a question about his play in one sentence. “I got in a little bit of a rhythm, and that was about it,” said the senior forward.
But Safford’s teammates were able to elaborate on his play for him.
“I felt that he came in and he was a difference in the first half,” said Denmon. “He had a lot of energy. He was in there battling, and it was a key for us to get Justin playing well, and I’m glad to see it.”
Kim English added, “I was standing up halfway through most of [Safford's] shorts. I just knew they were in a rhythm…but it was good to see the ball go through the hole for him because that opens up so much more for our offense having a big that can step out and create mismatches.”
“It’s good we can go to our bench and those guys can come in and give us some key moments,” said coach Mike Anderson. “And that’s the tale in tournament play. You’re going to have some unsung heroes, and I’m looking forward to some more unsung heroes as well as guys starting out and getting a lot of minutes tomorrow.”
Denmon, Michael Dixon and English accounted for most of Mizzou’s scoring, as the trio netted 20, 17 and 15 points, respectively. While English didn’t prove to be completely over his recent woes—he shot just 4-10 from the floor and committed three turnovers—he did shoot six free throws, making five. Only Dixon got to the line more, as the sophomore went 8-9 on free throws.
Mizzou jumped out to leads of 12 and 13 points during the second half, but both times Texas Tech got right back in the game. After Mizzou’s 12-point lead early into the second half, Tech went on a 14-3 run punctuated by a four-point play executed by David Tairu. And late in the half, Tech went on a 10-2 run to cut Mizzou’s lead to two with only a few minutes remaining.
A few turnovers by Dixon and English in the final three minutes let Tech hang around. Texas Tech applied full-court pressure in that stretch, which coach Pat Knight credited as leading to those turnovers that kept his team around.
The game marked the end of Knight’s tenure as head coach at Texas Tech, as Knight was fired Monday after going 50-60 in three seasons at the helm in Lubbock.
Mike Anderson was effusive in his praise of Knight, repeatedly referring to him as a class act. “You could tell he’s a Knight, because if he’s gonna go out he’s gonna go out in style,” said Anderson.
Knight had a more light-hearted approach to his final game as coach.
“If anybody’s looking for any real estate in Lubbock, I know of seven places.”