Something certainly lit a fire under the Texas Tech basketball team. There is simply no comparison between the gritty effort the Red Raiders put forth against the West Virginia Mountaineers, and the slothful lethargy they displayed the game before against Oklahoma State.
On the road, before a throaty, partisan house, Tech summoned up a passionate performance and very nearly pulled off a shocker in Morgantown. This looked like a totally different Red Raider team
What a shame they couldn't seal the deal!
At any rate, it is fairly apparent that a certain sports writer penned this team's epitaph a mite too early. The spirit to win still beats within the hearts of these Red Raiders, and they are still paying attention to the teachings of Chris Walker and his staff.
The stark change was most apparent in the first half defense Tech played. Suffice it to say, that the Red Raiders played more aggressively and physically than they have all year. On the plus side, Tech pestered, worried and harried the Mountaineers, holding them to 32 first half points. On the downside, this physicality resulted in a slew of fouls. And ultimately, three Red Raiders—Jordan Tolbert, Jay Crockett and Dejan Kravic—fouled out.
It didn't help matters that the zebras allowed burly Turkish hill giant, Deniz Kravic to pull a bull-in-a-China-shop routine all game long. He barreled into, plowed over, and trampled underfoot many a Red Raider on this afternoon, yet was tagged with only two personal fouls. This strains credulity.
Tech's second half defense was not as physical, but then it couldn't be because of foul difficulties. Fortunately, the offense took up the slack.
Offensive productivity has been a terrible problem for the Red Raiders throughout Big 12 play, but Tech actually looked very crisp at times running their sets in the second half. Screens were set with authority, and the Red Raiders cut hard. They also ran a few very sharp in-bounds plays which produced points and fouls.
Then there was Dusty Hannahs, knocking down three-pointers with the game on the line. And unlike in previous games, Hannahs actually had breathing room to shoot. This can be attributed to better screening and Hannahs curling off those screens quickly and precisely.
This was a game Tech could have won. Indeed, for the vast majority of the game one almost got the sense that the Red Raiders were the better team, and almost never have you been able to say that about Tech during Big 12 play.
Ultimately, Tech's inability to board missed free throws hurt them badly. The Mountaineers picked off missed charity shots a good four times, and made the Red Raiders pay when they did. That is unacceptable. Missed free throws should belong to the defensive team.
Then there was the curious day of Josh Gray. He played a mammoth 39 minutes and had a very mixed outing. On the plus side, Gray dished out eight big assists. That sort of productivity is what Chris Walker needs from his point guard. On the downside, however, Gray went one of nine from the floor and committed six turnovers. It is thus rather strange that Daylen Robinson, who at times has provided a spark this season, didn't see the floor at all.
So how does this rather impressive but bitter loss affect Chris Walker's pursuit of the permanent head coaching position at Tech? Just as a kiss is still a kiss, and a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, a loss is still a loss. It remains to be seen how much a close road defeat to a middling West Virginia team will sway Kirby Hocutt. But one thing is for certain—the battling spirit Walker's team showed against the Mountaineers looks a damned sight better than the pathetic effort his team displayed at home against Oklahoma State.
And all of this makes the upcoming tilt against Oklahoma all the more crucial. For my money, the Sooners could be the Big 12's sleeper team in the NCAA tourney. When it comes to pure athleticism and aggression, few teams in the country are better than OU. This is a team that is capable of blowing weak-willed clubs right out of the gym. But if Walker's team builds upon what they did in Morgantown and upsets the Sooners, they may provide real justification for getting to play for him again in 2013-14.