The crowd roared in anticipation of a final stop. The music blared loudly across the United Spirit Arena.
Texas Tech, the lowly program under first-year head coach Tubby Smith, had mighty Kansas, with its usual strong contingent of fans in attendance, on the ropes with a 63-62 lead. Everyone in the upper concourse was cheering, from the students right down to the security man watching the entrances.
As time ran out, Andrew Wiggins picked up a loose ball in the paint and dropped the ball in the basket, which bounced off the back rim before falling through with 1.7 seconds remaining.
An engaged student body was preparing to pour onto the court in celebration of another victory over a ranked team, but it wasn't so: Kansas had escaped Lubbock on Tuesday with a 64-63 win.
Wiggins, one of the top players in college basketball, was relaxed in the postgame press conference, grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat.
"They're a good team. Better than their record," he said of Texas Tech.
Nevertheless, Wiggins' first game winner ever gave him and the Jayhawks reason to flash their smiles that night.
What could be interpreted as a massive loss for a surging Red Raider program can be read differently. For one, both the students and the general Lubbock fanbase have, at long last, lent their support to basketball after years of apathy and fixation on the oftentimes turbulent football program.
"If I was a basketball fan living in this part of the state," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I would really latch on and buy into what Tubby and his staff are doing here."
Indeed, many are. Attendance had slowed to a drip in the seasons following Bob Knight's departure in 2008, reaching a thud in the 2012-13 campaign. What was once a rowdy arena and a buzzing atmosphere for basketball had fallen off completely. This year, with the assistance of Tech's marketing department (and a few free lunches), Texas Tech had engaged its core audience once again for basketball.
12,667 fans attended Tuesday's game, which was the second largest this season and the 35th largest ever at United Spirit Arena. The Red Raiders also set a new student attendance record with 4,338.
Another factor into Tech's surprising run is the change on the bench. Smith, who arrived from Minnesota to a Texas Tech program which saw a few departures and massive upheaval in the coaching seat in the past few seasons, decided to return the Red Raiders to what has become his bread-and-butter: defense and inspired play.
With a roster inherited from two different coaching tenures (not counting last season's interim effort), the work Smith has done – on and off the court – is the real story in the Texas Tech loss to Kansas, not just the actual score on the clock.
Can this be a program-building moment for a team which has beaten or challenged the top teams in the Big 12, the best league in college basketball, this season?
Despite the gut-wrenching result, Tuesday's performance was further evidence Texas Tech basketball is in the midst of a resurgence.
Tubby Leads Red Raider Basketball Revival
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