Say what you want about Tubby Smith's inaugural Texas Tech (13-15, 5-10) basketball team, but rarely has mental toughness been a problem.
The Red Raiders, despite a talent deficit, have gone toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in America, at home and on the road, and acquitted themselves very well. They have fallen into huge holes and climbed back out almost as many times as you have fingers on both hands.
But in a 60-56 setback to a scrappy but limited Kansas State (19-9, 9-6) team, the Red Raiders were mentally weak. They cracked under the pressure of an intense and tight game, and under the duress of KSU's hardcore defense. And they did it at home before a Big 12 student record crowd of 6,086--12,224 overall.
"It's hard to find (positives) man, it's really hard," Smith said following the game. "I think our guys worked hard tonight, we talk about being tough, about being aggressive and I thought we were that way, but we don't seem to be playing very smart. The toughness part, even that, I'm questioning that. When you miss 12 layups, 12 shots in the paint and you're avoiding contact the way we did tonight? That tells me something about your lack of toughness."
The game was one of runs. The Wildcats registered the first, edging out to a 12-6 lead over the Red Raiders with 11:22 remaining in the opening stanza. Tech had four turnovers during this stretch.
The Red Raiders stormed back with a 14-4 run of their own from the 8:38 mark to the 3:13 juncture. Tech took a 24-20 lead over the visitors on a Kader Tapsoba layup to grab the four-point advantage. Dejan Kravic was responsible for half of Tech's points during this run.
The remainder of the half was an inconclusive scrum and the Red Raiders took a 26-25 lead into the locker room.
During the first half Tech was 0-for-5 from three-point range and had 10 turnovers, four of which were committed by Robert Turner. Tech's saving grace was a seven-rebound advantage and four more made free throws than the Wildcats.
As is usually the case in the United Spirit Arena, the second half was wild and wooly to say the least.
The Red Raiders began the half looking like they were going to put K-State away early. Tech prevented the Wildcats from scoring a field goal for the first 7:13 and finalized a 38-29 lead on a Kravic layup.
But then Tech absolutely self-destructed and fell apart.
At the 9:36 mark Crockett nailed a jumper to make the score 42-34 and things were still looking fine for the Red Raiders. But on KSU's next trip down the court, Jordan Tolbert committed a senseless flagrant foul on Wesley Iwundu who duly hit both free throws. Maintaining possession of the ball because of the flagrant foul, K-State pulled to within three points on a Marcus Foster trifecta. Toddrick Gotcher responded with a trey of his own, but it wasn't enough to stem the Wildcat tide.
The Wildcats continued to chip away at the Red Raiders and finally regained the lead on an Iwundu dunk with 5:39 left to play. And it was here that Tech completely lost its poise and began playing poor defense for the first time all night.
KSU scored eight points in 61 seconds to put the Red Raiders into a very tight spot indeed. With 4:38 remaining, Kansas State suddenly owned a commanding 54-47 lead, their largest of the game.
But just as hope was fading, Tech summoned one last run of its own. Robert Turner and his mates pressured KSU's Will Spradling into two straight turnovers and scored seven points in a span of 45 seconds to completely erase Kansas State's hard-won lead. And when Dusty Hannahs knocked down a pair of freebies at the 1:19 mark, the Red Raiders once again led.
Yet again, however, victory was not to be for Texas Tech. On KSU's next possession, Iwundu recorded an old fashioned three-point play to give the visitors a one-point edge with 0:56 remaining.
On Tech's next possession, Crockett missed badly on an ill-advised three-pointer that was supposed to have been a high-low dump-down to Tolbert. The Red Raiders then fouled Spradling who made one free throw, and Tech was still within a deuce with 20 seconds still to play.
Alas, Turner dribbled the ball off of his foot, his fifth turnover of the game, and the Wildcats escaped with their second true road win of the season.
"I didn't see it (the whole play), I was trying to call timeout," Smith said. "Rob was off his game all night long, he was pathetic all night long. So, you know you don't go and hug the sideline and I'm not sure Toddrick wanted the ball. We were running a certain play there, we had an extra timeout, I turned to the ref, so I didn't really see to be honest with you.
"But they told me, they must have run into each other."
And to cap it all off, Iwundu paraded in front of the faithful and the cameras, shouting and holding his jersey out, as the post-game handshakes were about to take place.
But it never should have come to that. Throughout the game the Red Raiders got great looks at the rim deep inside the paint yet could not finish. Turner, Hannahs and Kravic, who led Tech with 13 points, all tightened up when all they needed to do was finish the open shot. Had the Red Raiders converted a third of those chippies, they would have won by three or four points. But on this night, all the mental toughness was wearing purple, not white, scarlet and black.
Tech Cracks under KSU Pressure
Raider Power Top Stories
Choice Cuts: Kansas WeekTexas Tech receiver Dylan Cantrell (pictured above), safety Jah'Shawn Johnson, offensive lineman Baylen Brown and linebacker Luke Stice met with local media following practice on…
Raider PowerMonday at 10:09 PM
Texas Tech Commit Roundup: Week 5Check out how every Texas Tech commit, including Euless Trinity safety Cameron Jones (pictured above), performed on the high school gridiron over the weekend.
Raider PowerMonday at 9:42 PM
Texas Tech Week 5 Monday Presser RecapTexas Tech's weekly media luncheon press conference was lively Monday as head coach Kliff Kingsbury, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and cornerback Justis Nelson discussed how the Red…
Raider PowerMonday at 11:01 AM
Raider Power Maibag: Bye Week EditionRaiderPower.com reporter Alyssa Chrisope, senior writer Joe Yeager, reporter Zach Tanner and publisher Jarret Johnson answer questions from subscribers about Texas Tech football,…
Raider PowerFriday at 7:05 AM