OKLAHOMA CITY -- After yet another missed block-out, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight called Martin Zeno over to the Red Raiders' bench in the second half for what Knight initially referred to as "a discussion" before correcting himself.
"Wasn't really a discussion," Knight said. "It was kind of a one-way conversation. 'Discussion' is being very liberal with what took place."
Zeno listened, heeded Knight's warning and thus returned to the game. That allowed Zeno to match his career high with 28 points as Texas Tech burnished its NCAA Tournament resume with an 81-71 win over Colorado on Thursday in the first round of the Big 12 Conference tournament.
Texas Tech (21-11) has won 20 games for the fifth time in six seasons under Knight, but a five-game losing streak in late January and early February means the Red Raiders are now on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The fifth-seeded Red Raiders will play another bubble team, fourth-seeded Kansas State, on Friday in the quarterfinals. Knight said it's ridiculous that some consider the game to be what amounts to an elimination contest for a fourth Big 12 bid to the NCAA Tournament. Three league teams -- Kansas, Texas A&M and Texas -- are considered tournament locks.
"To me, before the [Big 12] tournament ever started, both teams should be in the NCAA Tournament," Knight said of Kansas State and Texas Tech.
"If a team is in the NCAA Tournament at the end of a [regular] season, then the only way a tournament should matter is that somebody wins a tournament championship that wasn't figured on getting into the NCAA. I don't think you can put one [tournament] game against an entire season or two games against an entire season," he said.
Colorado (7-20) closed its final season under coach Ricardo Patton, who said before the season that his 11th campaign with the Buffaloes would be his last. Colorado failed to win consecutive games this season, the first time the Buffs had done that since the 1971-72 season.
The Buffs also lost 20 games in a season for the first time since the 1988-89 campaign, when they lost 21.
After the game, Knight put his arm around Patton and spoke to him briefly.
"He just talked about enjoying our relationship and if there ever was anything he could do for me, he would do that and he has a great deal of respect for what we've done here," Patton said.
Colorado trailed only 66-63 with five minutes left, but Zeno made sure the Buffs came no closer, scoring 13 of Texas Tech's final 15 points, starting with a three-point play with 4:58 left. The Buffs managed only one basket in the final five minutes.
"I had got taken out," Zeno said, recounting his version of his discussion with Knight. "He told me what I am going to do is sit down on the bench or I am going to go out there and play. I felt like playing so I went out there and did what he asked me to do."
Knight said he was "pleased with the way [Zeno] reacted over the period where we had to play to win the game."
Dominique Coleman led Colorado with a career-high 25 points and added eight rebounds and four assists.
Patton was the last remaining coach from the Big 12's original group of coaches in 1996-97, the league's first season. Before the game, Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg presented Patton with a commemorative basketball to honor Patton's time in the league.
That was likely the highlight of Patton's afternoon. Colorado led only once, at 1-0, and played cohesively only in spurts, keeping the game just close enough to make it interesting but never catching the Red Raiders despite shooting 50.9 percent from the field and outrebounding Texas Tech 35-29.
Texas Tech posted a sizable edge in free throws, finishing 35-of-44 from the line while Colorado went 12-of-22.
"The free-throw shooting certainly hurt us ... Even the ones we got we didn't do a good job of capitalizing and making those free throws," Patton said.
Texas Tech led 8-7 five minutes into the game before reeling off eight straight points. Two came on technical free throws by Jarrius Jackson, after Colorado's bench was penalized for having a substitute, Sean Kowal, enter the game with a jersey number not listed in the official scorebook.
The Buffs pulled within 33-29 in the final two minutes of the half, but Texas Tech answered with six straight points. The Red Raiders led 41-31 at halftime.
Texas Tech built its lead to 12 points with 16:37 left, but Colorado cut that margin to three points twice, at 58-55 with 9:46 left on Coleman's driving layup and at 66-63 on a 3-pointer by Richard Roby with 5:25 left.
Roby added 17 points for the Buffs. Jackson and Charlie Burgess each had 13 points for Texas Tech.