Don't look now, but Tubby Smith's Texas Tech Red Raiders are becoming a very good basketball team. Just as one coaching legend, Bob Knight, took the Red Raiders from dreadful to delightful in his first season in Lubbock, so too another legend appears to be making dramatic headway in year one.
The latest evidence is Tech's convincing 65-61 victory over an angry and dangerous No. 19 Oklahoma State team before 15,098 berserk fans in the United Spirit Arena. The Red Raiders, now 4-6 in Big 12 play, have already won more conference games than they did in the entirety of last season. And the wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State are far more impressive than anything last year's team accomplished.
There are many things that wow you about this win. Jaye Crockett, who is putting himself on NBA radars, had a monster game with 21 points and 12 big boards and the go-ahead points in the waning moments.
Bench play was tremendous. Kader Tapsoba, who seemingly hadn't seen the court since the Cenozoic Era, scored seven points, grabbed two rebounds and recorded three steals. And he put some steel into Tech's on-court demeanor.
Randy Onwuasor looked special in his 12 minutes on the court. His play in the middle of the second half, when Tech was down by eight and on the ropes, pulled the Red Raiders back from the brink.
Jamal Williams' jumper right before intermission gave Tech a halftime lead, and his defensive energy in the second half was pivotal.
And speaking of defense, Tech's was sterling. The Cowboys entered the game averaging 84 points per contest and the Red Raiders held them to 61. In the first half Tech forced OSU to shoot jumpers, the vast majority of which they missed. The Red Raiders allowed the Cowboys to shoot much better in the second half, but also hounded them into eight turnovers, and didn't allow them to scratch in the game's final 1:42.
But most impressive of all was Tech's poise and mental toughness.
The Red Raider program had been beaten down and abused for the last half dozen seasons and certainly didn't have a major storehouse of confidence heading into this season. The team had shown progress in 2013-14, but was still only .500 going into the showdown with Oklahoma State.
With this history in mind, the Red Raiders were suddenly confronted not only with a talented top 20 team desperate for a win, but were also saddled with playing before the program's first sellout since Jan. 1, 2007. Tubby Smith had clearly invested much of himself in making this game a showcase for the program he is building. Now his team had to go out and make sure it didn't let Smith, and the madding throng in attendance, down. That is some kind of pressure.
But the Red Raiders flat out responded. They weren't too jacked up; they weren't tight; they weren't wide-eyed; they were all business. And they immediately took the fight to the visitors, rushing out to a quick 4-0 lead and forcing Travis Ford to call a quick timeout. Tech extended its lead to 10-6 on a Crockett jumper with 13:06 left in the first half, and led for the first 11:25 of the game.
Clearly, the Red Raiders were not overawed by the setting, nor did they shrink under the pregame pressure. Instead, they waxed large.
But despite the strong start, this game proved to be an ugly, gritty battle, and Tech was forced to fight their way through some worrisome stretches.
The Cowboys, who led almost the entirety of the second half of the first half, surged to a 16-10 lead as the Red Raiders grew cold and their offense ground to a halt. But Tech never lost contact or heart, and retook the lead on Williams' jumper with four seconds remaining in the half.
But the real fright came in the second half. From the 17:43 mark to the 13:29 point, OSU went on a 13-4 run to take a 44-36 lead. The Red Raiders were in trouble. They could have folded. But showing their characteristic tough mentality, Tech responded with a 13-4 run of its own and retook the lead on a Crockett trey with 8:22 to play.
And that point the Red Raiders were back in it to stay and victory would go to the team that could make the plays when it counted. That team was Tech.
The Red Raiders did what they were unable to do against LSU, West Virginia, Texas and Kansas State earlier in the season. It was Tech that forced turnovers late. It was the Red Raiders who hit the clutch buckets under pressure.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's top player, Marcus Smart, succumbed to the pressure by pushing a Texas Tech fan in the stands in the final seconds of the game, drawing a technical and effectively ending the game.
And it was a program emerging from its long nightmare that took home a colossal W. The Big 12 conference doesn't have the Red Raiders to kick around anymore.
Wild Night at United Spirit Arena
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