Preview: Red Raiders Open Big 12 Play on Road

Non-conference is over, now the real test for Billy Gillispie and his young squad is here - Big 12 Conference play.

Getting ready for Big 12 Conference play is something Billy Gillispie has been through before and it's not something new to the former Texas A&M coach.

But the first-year Texas Tech head coach has never had a squad with so much youth and inconsistency heading into conference play in the past.

"We have to be, we don't have to until Wednesday, but Wednesday's quickly approaching," Gillispie said. "We're looking forward to it, it's going to be a great challenge for us. I think every coach would ask for more time, but the calendar doesn't dictate that, so we'll be ready to go on Wednesday against a very good team."

Oklahoma State (7-6) is the first taste of Big 12 play that the Red Raiders will get, but it's on the road where Tech has been extremely unsuccessful, winning just one game away from Lubbock in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

The Red Raiders (7-5) and the Cowboys clash at 7 p.m. tonight inside Gallagher - Iba Arena.

Unfortunately for Tech, the Cowboys played better when playing in Gallagher – Iba Arena going 6-1 in non-conference with Virginia Tech being the only loss.

"We've played a really difficult schedule, hopefully that schedule will pay dividends for us," Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said. "We understand our weaknesses, we understand what we've got to get better at, we fully grasp who we are. Now we've got to do something about it."  

Losing the game was tough, but not as tough as it will be replacing a player that consistently reached double-digits in scoring.

Junior Jean – Paul Olukemi was lost for the season in that game when he tore his ACL Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford said during the Big 12's weekly teleconference.

Olukemi was third on the team in scoring averaging 9.4 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game, which ranked fourth on the team.

Having that kind of loss before Big 12 play is tough, Ford said, but others will just have to step up and play.

"I know he was anxious to play in the Big 12 and be a little better than he was last year," he said. "He meant a lot to our team, but it's just going to make everybody to step up a little bit. But no question he was a major part of our basketball team."

Losing a high scorer like that is not easy to replace, and heading into this matchup, the Cowboys have struggled to find a win, losing four of their last five games.

Despite their recent struggles, Gillispie said he has seen Ford's team's play before and knows how good they are on both ends of the court.

Now with Gillispie's Red Raiders, who have won their last two games, CSU-Bakersfield and Southeastern Louisiana, Gillispie said there is still a lot of room for improvement and there is still no set rotation of players for his starting five.

The one player that has been key to their success and has secured his spot in the starting five, and someone the Cowboys will have to guard and maybe double team, is dynamic freshman Jordan Tolbert.

The Fort Worth native was named the Phillips 66 Big 12 Rookie of the Week for his performance in those two games averaging 19 points per game and four rebounds as well.

Tolbert leads the team in scoring averaging 15.4 points per game and has a field goal percentage of .652, which are both top among Big 12 freshmen. The 6-foot-7 post also leads the team in rebounding averaging 6.1 per game, which ranks second among rookies.

Stopping him from going off against them will come down to his players doing what they are supposed to do, Ford said, as long as he doesn't get inside they will be OK.

"Very impressive, very hard working, very skilled inside is really good around the basket," he said. "Got a really nice face up jump shot, plays with a lot of intensity. Very impressed."

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