Fans learned again what Justin Safford is and what he isn’t.
Safford has been a frequent target of criticism for Missouri in 2010. So much of the story surrounding Safford’s senior season has been focused on what he isn’t rather than what he is. Safford is not a traditional forward built for asserting his will in the paint or overpowering opponents. For all intents and purposes, since a late growth spurt, Safford has been a guard trapped in a forward’s body. When he is on his game, and he was for a good portion of Wednesday night, he offers a steadying midrange game on the offensive end and disruptive hands in the lane on the defensive end.
He has looked lost against some of Missouri’s bigger, stronger opponents. But against a Texas Tech team that allowed Mizzou to open up the floor, Safford capably filled his limited niche.
It’s a good thing he did, too, as…
Mizzou learned it could win despite spending most of the night without Laurence Bowers.
Marcus Denmon has been Mizzou’s best player for most of 2010-11, but it was Bowers who was Missouri’s most vital cog down the stretch. Bowers picked up two fouls in the first four and a half minutes of the game Wednesday and picked up his third less than three minutes into the second half. In all, he played 14 minutes, one less than Steve Moore.
For the last few weeks, it was Bowers or nothing for Mizzou on the front line. Even with Bowers coming up huge in the last three contests, Mizzou couldn’t find ways to win. But without the benefit of “L-Bo” for most of Wednesday, the Tigers found a way to get it done.
We learned Mizzou’s ceiling and its floor can be on display in the same night.
Mizzou fans had been waiting for a while for Missouri to put it all together in one dominating stretch of play. They got it in 1:27 of glory to open the second half. It was only an eight-point run, but Missouri stretched a four-point lead into a 12-point lead thanks to strong defense that, with some crisp passing, turned into open looks (which Missouri’s shooters managed to hit for a change).
But Missouri’s nightmares were on display as well on Wednesday. In fact, it was a terrifying bit of deja vu. On Nov. 30, Missouri struggled to close out Georgetown at the Sprint Center before losing in overtime. In the same building last night, Mizzou began coughing the ball up, struggling to beat full-court pressure, and taking shots early in the shot clock as its lead wilted in the final minutes.
It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. It’s a fitting quote, but only because Charles Dickens never uttered the phrase “Survive and Advance.”