Plainly and simply, the Red Raiders do it with defense. Tech's offense blows hot and cold.
Sometimes the Red Raiders look good on that end of the court, and at others they look like they are lost. But even when Tech (13-11, 5-6) fumbles and bumbles on offense, the defense stays tenacious, and lately, has been carrying the team through the scoring droughts.
Such was the case in Norman, Oklahoma where the Red Raiders stormed to a 16-point halftime lead over the Oklahoma Sooners (18-7, 7-5), maintained a 20-point advantage with 13:33 to play, went into a scary offensive funk, yet managed to gut out a 68-60 victory.
The Sooners, who had lost only twice at home this season, were too good to let Tech coast to an easy victory, and sure enough, Oklahoma made the Red Raiders sweat it out. Beginning with a Frank Booker trey at the 13:32 mark of the second half, OU went on a 21-4 run to chop Tech's monster 20-point lead to only three with 7:30 still showing on the clock. Rarely has so massive an advantage melted away so quickly.
But Tech's scrapping, harassing, anticipating defense, which was crucial to the Red Raiders establishing their lead to begin with, came to the rescue just in the nick of time. Over the final 7:30 of play Tech held the suddenly hot Sooners to a modest 12 points and hit just enough clutch free throws to secure a borderline monumental victory.
That the Red Raiders, who hadn't beaten a team of quality on the road in years, did so while star Jaye Crockett was having an off night, made the win doubly impressive. Yes, Crockett led Tech in rebounds with eight, and managed to reach double figures in scoring, but he was also two of seven from the floor and committed four turnovers. Crockett just never seemed to get in the flow of the game, and was hesitant where he's usually aggressive.
But the Red Raiders got a big game out of Robert Turner, who seems to play much of his best ball on the road. Despite a terrible night at the free throw line, Turner scored a team high 16 points, shut down OU point guard Jordan Woodard, handed out five assists and grabbed a pair of steals. Josh Gray, the Tech point guard from a year ago, had a tremendous reputation for larceny, but Turner is no slouch himself, ranking second in the Big 12 in steals.
But it was Turner's offensive play that may have saved the day for the Red Raiders. Late in the game, as Tech was fending off Oklahoma's furious rally, Turner was the only Red Raider who could generate anything on offense. He assisted Jaye Crockett on a layup with 5:34 to play to make it 56-50, Tech. He hit two free throws with 4:50 left to make it 58-50. He hit a jumper at the 2:41 mark to stake Tech 62-54. And he threw home a dunk for Tech's final points with :35 remaining.
Turner is not quite quick enough to blow by most defenders, but he's got a knack for hitting tough runners in the lane while under extreme duress. And that's almost as good.
Tech's next outing is another toughie as the Red Raiders travel to the always raucous Hilton Coliseum to take on Iowa State on Saturday. And one thing is certain: the Cyclones will not take the surging Red Raiders lightly.
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