Kansas City, Mo. It seemed as if everybody was rooting against Missouri, the school that nearly brought the Big 12 to ruin, and you can be sure coach Frank Haith and the rest of the Tigers heard them.
They made sure to leave a lasting impression on their way to the SEC.
Kim English capped a phenomenal conference tournament with 19 points, Phil Pressey added 15 points and eight assists, and the fifth-ranked Tigers beat No. 12 Baylor, 90-75, on Saturday night to win their second championship in the past four years.
“Obviously, it’s special. To win championships is just special,” Haith said. “We didn’t win the regular-season championship, but we won a conference tournament championship.”
English wound up 29-of-40 from the field in a virtuoso performance in Kansas City and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Michael Dixon added 17 points for the Tigers (30-4), while Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon finished with 15 each.
“Kim’s play was unbelievable all weekend,” Denmon said. “He really carried us.”
Missouri’s decision to leave for the Southeastern Conference after this season drew outrage from fans of opposing teams, and all the fans from nine other schools that flocked to the Sprint Center seemed to be rooting hard against the school from just down Interstate 70.
Thousands of fans clad in black and gold in turn booed interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas when he gave away the trophy, and chants of “SEC! SEC!” arose in the closing minutes.
“There were roughly 18,000 people here — it was packed. I would suggest 17,000 of those people were in black and gold,” Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said. “So to suggest that Kansas City, Mo., is a Mizzou town, I can assure you, it absolutely was proof positive today.”
Perry Jones III led Baylor (27-7) with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Brady Heslip scored 14 and Deuce Bello came off the bench to add 13 for the Bears, who were again turned away one win short of their first conference tournament title since 1950.
The Bears also lost to Missouri in the 2009 Big 12 title game.
“The biggest thing we haven’t talked about is their experience, five seniors,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They’ve been through situations like this.”
The two teams waged two memorable games during the regular season, Missouri coming out on top both times. The first was an 89-88 victory in Waco in January, when the Tigers made 10 free throws in the closing minute to hold off a furious rally. The second was a 15-point victory in Columbia, a game that was nip-and-tuck until the Tigers went on a second-half charge.
This one wound up being a bit more like the second meeting.
The teams traded blows throughout the first half — Denmon or English would knock down a 3-pointer, Jones or Quincy Miller would find a way to work inside for a matching bucket. The lead never reached double figures even though Missouri threatened it a couple times.
It wasn’t until the final minutes before the half, when Denmon knocked down a jumper and Pressey made two foul shots, that Missouri had some breathing room.
That was part of a 16-5 thrust that spanned the break and gave the Tigers a 57-42 lead, their biggest of the game, and forced Baylor coach Scott Drew to use all but one of his timeouts.
Quincy Acy, playing in his school-record 135th game, finally got on the board with a pair of free throws as Baylor began cutting into the lead.
Two more foul shots by A.J. Walton nipped it back to single digits, and later in the half, an alley-oop jam by Jones off a half-court feed from Pierre Jackson got Baylor within 64-56.
“We just had to get stops,” Acy said. “That’s pretty much the whole game. We had to get stops and we had to convert easies. That’s it.”
Instead, Missouri seemed to keep finding answers.
Dixon hit a jumper after Perry’s rim-rattling dunk, and English knocked down a three-pointer moments later to restore a double-digit cushion, the swagger-filled junior guard sticking out his tongue and giving a “so-what?” shoulder shrug as he headed back to play defense.
The Tigers continued to pour it on. Pressey hit a three-pointer from about 6 feet beyond the arc, and English followed with another from the exact same spot. This time, he exhorted a partisan crowd packed inside the Sprint Center to rise to its feet with a chant of “M-I-Z, Z-O-U!”
Baylor went on one more spirited run, closing within 77-72 after a 10-2 spurt, but the salty Tigers took care of things from the foul line. They made 10 straight at one point in the closing minutes, putting a tidy bow on one final Big 12 championship.
“The Big 12 has been a phenomenal league and it will continue to be a phenomenal league,” Alden said. “You want to have opportunities, but we never would have had a chance like this if it wasn’t for the Big 12. So for us, going forward, it’s something that we are just appreciative of the opportunity to be associated with a great league.”