Oklahoma City DeMarre Carroll could only shake his head and listen to his teammates laugh as he finished chronicling what he’d been through in two years at Missouri.
Seated alongside the uncle who also happened to be his head coach and wearing a Big 12 championship cap and T-shirt, his journey seemed just a little bit wild.
“Once I transferred here, everything started going wrong. I was just looking around like, ‘Man, what did I get myself into?’ But my uncle told me just keep having faith and the sun will come up at the end,” Carroll said.
“I got shot, we lost a lot of games, and so on. But look at me now. I’m standing here smiling and I’m a Big 12 champion.”
Carroll scored 20 points as the 14th-ranked Tigers ended Baylor’s surprising run through the Big 12 tournament, grinding down the Bears, 73-60, to win their first postseason conference title in 16 years.
Not since 1993, when longtime coach Norm Stewart guided Mizzou to the last of four Big Eight titles in seven years, had the Tigers emerged victorious in a conference tournament.
But times have changed quickly. In fact, the Tigers are all about doing things fast with coach Mike Anderson’s brand of the “fastest 40 minutes in basketball.”
The Tigers (28-6) are bound for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and leaving far behind the days of NCAA violations, off-the-court incidents and empty postseasons that had spoiled recent seasons.
Carroll himself got caught up in one of those bad situations. He was trying to break up a fight when he got shot in the ankle at a downtown nightclub in July 2007.
“We had some storms. We had a lot of storms. And of course, he was involved in some of those,” said Anderson, who is Carroll’s uncle. “ ... I always tell guys, ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.’
“That’s how I look at myself and life. You’ve got to persevere. You’ve got to have faith. ... I think you’ve got to go through some things in order to get where you want to go.”
For Missouri, the last step to the championship was against a Baylor team trying to become the first to win four games in as many days to claim the Big 12 title. But after a string of three straight upsets that included a quarterfinal stunner against No. 11 Kansas, the three-time defending tournament champion and top seed, the ninth-seeded Bears (20-14) finally ran out of gas.
Matt Lawrence hit a three-pointer and a layup on back-to-back possessions as Missouri pushed its lead to 46-35 with a run of seven straight points early in the second half, and he had another three after the Bears had gotten back within single digits.
Baylor made a brief comeback bid with a run of six straight points to get within 51-46 on Kevin Rogers’ basket from the left block with 11:38 remaining, but he missed the chance to make it a three-point play and the Tigers then snuffed out the rally with an 8-0 run including a basket inside and a three-pointer from Carroll. The lead eventually grew to as many as 15.
“We don’t mind playing fast, but our advantage was inside and I don’t know if we had enough in the tank to do that nonstop,” said Bears coach Scott Drew, whose team was only the third in the tournament’s 13 years to win three games in three days to get to the title game. Missouri did it in 1997 and 2003.
Curtis Jerrells led Baylor with 16 points, Henry Dugat added 12, and LaceDarius Dunn had 11.
With 12 wins more than last season, the Tigers have matched the biggest turnaround in school history with a frenetic, pressing style that wears down even opponents that haven’t played the day before — much less three in a row.
That made Baylor’s task that much more difficult.
“When you play a team that plays as many as they rotate, they’re always going to be fresh,” Drew said. “The second thing is they played one day less, and the other thing with that is their style. ... We really tried to slow it down more, but when you’re getting hounded and someone’s swinging at you, you have two options: duck or hit. Both of them are actions.”
Tigers fans started chanting “M-I-Z! Z-O-U!” as Lawrence stepped to the line in the final minute to help Missouri close it out.
“Four games in four days. I thought it took its toll,” Anderson said as a rainbow of confetti flowed through the arena and the Tigers celebrated at center court. “And our Tigers rose to the occasion.”