Weak 3D: Texas Tech's perimeter defense has been a major Achilles' heel all season. Rarely, however, has this deficiency been more apparent than it was in the Red Raiders' 20-point loss to Iowa State in Ames.
The Cyclones knocked down 38 percent of their 29 three-point attempts, which is a statistical indictment of Tech's defensive efforts. But it was more than the mere stats that rankled. Iowa State is a very good outside shooting team so it should have been job one for the Red Raiders to defend the trifecta.
Was tough perimeter defense a key component of the game plan? If so, there was little evidence of the fact.
In reality, Tech did an utterly atrocious job of locating the Cyclone bombers, particularly on the secondary fast break. Especially in the first half, ISU players were often left with ample time to catch the ball, measure the shot, and take it unmolested. And there was scant little effort by the Red Raiders to close down the shooters. Frankly, the effort to play perimeter defense just was not there and neither was the execution.
Another Dead Spot Does Tech In: Despite the abysmal perimeter defense, the Red Raiders were squarely in this game until the final moments of the first half. Unfortunately, and as we have seen repeatedly throughout the season, Tech experienced a momentary collapse which undid all of the team's hard work for the first 19 minutes of the game.
Predictably, it all started with foul perimeter defense. With ISU clinging to a 28-26 lead with 1:13 to play in the first half, Chris Babb banged home a wide open three pointer. Compounding the situation, Dejan Kravic committed a foul under the basket and Melvin Ejim made Tech pay by connecting on both free throws. It was a five-point play.
On Tech's possession, Josh Gray missed a jumper. The Cyclones rebounded and Babb knocked down another three-point bomb with :47 to play in the half. A two-point deficit had ballooned to 10 in a span of 26 seconds.
Josh Gray hit a three-pointer with :06 remaining to cut the margin to seven, but the damage was already done, and the Red Raiders didn't make another serious push for the remainder of the contest.
Burden of Offense on Josh Gray's Shoulders: The lone bright spot this season for the Red Raiders has been the development of freshman point guard Josh Gray. After early struggles, he has blossomed into possibly the best freshman in the Big 12. Unfortunately for Gray, his teammates are not helping him out very much.
So poor is Tech's perimeter shooting that Gray is now shooting strongly contested layups rather than kicking the ball to open shooters. This is not selfishness on Gray's part. Rather, he simply doesn't trust his fellow Red Raiders to knock down open shots. And rightly so. At this point, a Gray layup attempt between three redwoods has a better chance of going in than an open 15-foot jumper from any other Red Raider.
Gunslinger Gray: Keeping with the theme, Gray is developing in other ways besides points and assists. It is becoming clear that Gray is this team's leader. He is the guy who encourages his teammates. He is the guy that barks a bit when a Red Raider doesn't do his job. And it is Gray who does most of the talking when the team huddles before free throws. Gray's the lead dog.
And you really have to love Gray's on-court demeanor. The guy is cool as a cucumber and pretty much unflappable. The days of a hot methane-spewing A. J. Walton getting under his skin may be past.
Ammo for Future Motivation: It is clear that ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg wanted to send a message to a Tech team that defeated his club earlier in the season. Hence, with around three minutes left to play and the Cyclones up by nearly 30 points, Hoiberg's starters were still in the game and hoisting up three pointers.
Now that's all well and good. There's no rule saying that you must play your subs at a certain point or that a team must refrain from lobbing threes. Still, Oklahoma State's Travis Ford sat his starters with more than 10 minutes to play in a blowout victory in Lubbock. Hoiberg did the opposite. The difference is illustrative. Whoever is coaching the Red Raiders next season should remind his team of what Hoiberg did in Ames on February 23, 2013.