LUBBOCK — Texas Tech head coach Pat Knight is still trying to get a grasp on his team before the Red Raiders dive into conference play next week.
And not there's an added twist to the dilemma — senior point guard John Roberson, suspended for at least Wednesday night's game with a pending vote coming from the coaches and players before Tech plays its next opponent on Jan. 2.
So Knight had to get Tech ready to play New Mexico without its starting senior point guard and watched his team play "some of its best basketball" as the Red Raiders fell just one play short in a 61-60 loss at United Spirit Arena — their second home loss in three games.
After the game, Knight had plenty to say about why he needs to make decisions like this when a player violates team rules, which was Roberson's case.
"If you are going to be a bad teammate, you're going to pay the consequences. No player, no coach is above the team," Knight said. "… I'll lose every game if it's to prove a point. I'm not one of these guys that's just worried about the wins and losses. I've got to make these guys better people and better players. I have no problem taking a risk in a game if it gets a point across to a player."
Tech (6-7) shot out with a 25-10 lead in the first 10 minutes but watched New Mexico go on a 16-2 run to get within one point while the Red Raiders turned the ball over seven times. Tech then hit two more key baskets to take a 33-27 lead into the locker room at halftime. But it was the largest lead the Red Raiders would have the rest of the game.
That's when New Mexico head coach Steve Alford decided to pull his senior players aside in the locker room and not address the entire team. He felt it was important to get his point across clearly to seniors A.J. Hardeman, Dairese Gary and Phillip McDonald.
"I didn't think they were ready to play," Alford said. "I didn't think that they led well. We are a very young basketball team. Our young guys are doing a great job. But they need help and the upper classmen are the key to this thing."
The speech appeared to work as the Lobos (10-1) came out on a 13-2 run led by two big 3-pointers by McDonald, who led New Mexico with 12 points.
His second of two threes gave the Lobos the first of their two seven-point leads with just seven minutes remaining.
"We started off flat," senior guard David Tairu said. "I guess we didn't have the energy that we had in the first half. Once New Mexico went on that run, we picked up some that energy too late."
Senior forward Mike Singletary helped Tech close the gap with a 10-3 run to tie the game at 57-57 with 1:58 to go. But mistakes at the free-throw line cost the Red Raiders an opportunity to take a lead before the one-minute mark, still trailing by three points. Brad Reese hit a layup down the line to get within one and Tech managed to force New Mexico's Dairese Gary to turn it over with 7.7 seconds to play, giving the Red Raiders an inbound pass at midcourt.
Singletary took the pass and went the length of the court, faking out one defender to get off a short jumper in the lane but did not get it to fall as time expired. Singletary led Tech with 18 points followed by Tairu's 13 and Paul Cooper's 12.
"He did a great job and you can't ask for more," Knight said of Singletary's last effort. "The play worked out perfect. It just didn't go in."
Knight added that he was not sure how Roberson would respond to the suspension but liked what he saw out of team that fought off a bad stretch in the second half to come within one shot of winning against a solid New Mexico team.
"There's light at the end of the tunnel," Knight said. "You can't get down — especially as a coach because they are going to feed off me. You can't hang your head. It sucks, losing.
"… We just have to keep getting better. Tonight was nice from a standpoint, not as a loss, but that we played like a team tonight. A team that can win some games and a team that was fun to coach."
NEXT THREE GAMES: Jan. 2 vs. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (4-8); Jan. 4 vs. Delaware State (4-7); Jan. 8 vs. No. 23 Baylor (8-3).