Missouri survived the first day of the Big 12 tournament for the first time in four years, courtesy of a first-round bye.
Snapping its four-game skid in the conference tournament won’t come as easily with Texas Tech forward Mike Singletary hoping for a strong follow-up to a record-breaking performance.
The 14th-ranked and No. 3 seed Tigers open tournament play Thursday night when they meet the No. 11 seed Red Raiders, who are still alive because Singletary orchestrated the biggest comeback in Big 12 tournament history.
Picked to finish seventh in the conference, Missouri (25-6) won 12 conference games for the first time since the Big 12’s inception in 1996, finishing third in the regular season and earning a bye through the first round of the tournament.
“We’re very confident because we have beaten pretty much every team in the Big 12,” senior Matt Lawrence said. “To have the bye and be able to wait and see what happens is awesome.”
That rest may be useful, but the Tigers are still winless in four conference tournament games since a 70-67 win over Nebraska on March 10, 2005. Junior guard J.T. Tiller knows there’s pressure for Missouri to win its opener.
“We’re just trying to get over that first game hump,” Tiller said. “We get to rest and relax but it doesn’t feel any different because we still have to win that first game.”
The pressure may be greater after the show Singletary and the Red Raiders (14-18) put on Wednesday night. Texas Tech trailed by as much as 21 before Singletary scored all 29 of the team’s points during a second-half surge that pushed the Red Raiders to a 88-83 win over Texas A&M.
Singletary played 31 minutes off the bench and finished with 43 points to break the tournament scoring record of 38 set by Iowa State’s Marcus Fizer in 2000. His run of consecutive points without a teammate scoring is the second-longest in NCAA history, behind only the 54 in a row by Bill Mlkvy of Temple in a game against Wilkes on March 3, 1951.
“I was just in the zone, I think,” said Singletary, a sophomore whose previous career high was 25 points against New Mexico on Dec. 15, 2007. “We didn’t want to lose this game. We didn’t want to go home.”
That attitude has Texas Tech coach Pat Knight excited about the possibility of the Red Raiders extending their unlikely postseason run.
“Normally, teams would have given up three or four weeks ago,” said Knight, whose team snapped a six-game losing streak by upsetting then-No. 9 Kansas last Wednesday. “These guys just haven’t given up, and I think this is a great indication of that.”
Singletary, who has started only four games this season, had 14 points and six rebounds off the bench in his first meeting with Missouri - a 97-86 Tigers win in Columbia on Jan. 24.
DeMarre Carroll, Missouri’s leading scorer with 17.1 points per game, had 27 against the Red Raiders. The 6-foot-8 senior forward added six rebounds and four assists while going 10-for-16 from the field in his third-highest scoring performance of the season.
Before the opening round, Carroll sounded ready to get back onto the court.
“Whoever we get, we’re on a mission,” he said.
The winner of this game will meet second-seeded Oklahoma or No. 7 seed Oklahoma State in the semifinals Friday night.