By Wendell Barnhouse | email@example.com
Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Byron Eaton could have had a Willis Reed moment.
After going down with a sprained foot and being helped to the locker room, the Oklahoma State senior guard returned to the court to start the second half. The predominantly Cowboys crowd in the Ford Center cheered in ecstasy.
All that was missing was a victory. When Reed limped onto the Madison Square Garden floor, the inspired New York Knicks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Seven of the 1970 NBA finals.
Even Eaton's gutsy and inspiring performance wasn't enough. Third-seeded Missouri clamped down on Oklahoma State for a 67-59 victory in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship semifinal Friday night.
The Tigers (27-6) will face ninth-seeded Baylor in Saturday's championship game (5:30 p.m. ESPN). The Bears knocked off fifth-seeded Texas, 76-70, in the other semifinal game. Neither school has ever won the Big 12 Championship.
"There's a lot at stake for both teams," said Missouri coach Mike Anderson, whose team is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Baylor is trying to become the first Big 12 team to win four games in four days. The Big 12's automatic NCAA Tournament bid goes to the winner.
Eaton was injured with 9:32 remaining in the first half. Oklahoma State had a 15-10 lead and its zone defense was forcing Missouri to settle for perimeter jump shots.
For the rest of the half, the Cowboys were like an exhausted swimmer reaching for the edge of the pool. They went to the locker room with a 23-21 lead.
Eaton's return was inspirational but ineffective. He finished with four points (all free throws) and a team-high eight turnovers.
"I was glad to see he came back but we didn't put it all on Byron," said Marshall Moses, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. "Byron wasn't the reason we lost. He played hard and he played hurt."
Oklahoma State's downfall was its shooting, particularly from 3-point range. The Cowboys, who led the Big 12 in 3-point shooting, missed their first 16 long-range attempts. When Obi Muonelo's three ended the drought with 6:12 remaining, it pulled Oklahoma State to within 49-47.
That's as close as coach Travis Ford's team came to taking the lead down the stretch.
"We didn't play one of our better games," he said. "When you're not making shots it's imperative you take care of the basketball. 17 turnovers in a game where you're not shooting it well is gonna hurt."
For Missouri, this game gets filed under "Win Ugly." The Tigers were 24-of-64 from the field (37.5 percent) and were out-rebounded 45-37.
"Shooting comes and goes and it went tonight," Anderson said. "But our defense was the constant. "Sometimes ugly is better for us. At this time of year, it's about survive and advance. We survived."
* Both teams followed the yellow brick road when it came to 3-pointers. They combined to make 10-of-55 3-ponters (18.1 percent).
* Oklahoma State's 59 points were a season low. When the two teams played in Stillwater on Jan. 21, Missouri won, 97-95. Oklahoma State averages 81 points per game.
* Gerry Pollard, one of the three officials working the game, had to be replaced early in the second half when he injured his right hamstring. Alternate official Randy Heimerman took his place.
* Over its last six games, Missouri is averaging 10.3 turnovers. The Tigers had 10 against Oklahoma State.