In the postgame press conference following Texas Tech's 59-53 victory over Texas, Red Raiders head coach Tubby Smith was asked about his team's postseason chances.
Smith simply dismissed them. "Not much," he said.
Even the head of the Red Raider basketball program understood that Saturday was not a time to contemplate third-tier tournament berths. It was a chance to honor his seniors and begin the long process of rebuilding what was considered a college basketball also-ran.
Texas Tech shot 46.3 percent from the floor, managed to get to the free-throw line at a higher rate (24-17), and found a way to tame the Longhorns, who featured key players such as Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley. (Felix and backcourt mate Isaiah Taylor combined for 4-22 from the field and nine points total).
The man behind it all was Jaye Crockett, who in his final home game as a Red Raider achieved a double-double: 22 points and 10 rebounds. But self-praise isn't the New Mexico native's specialty.
"When you seal it with a win, there's nothing better than that," Crockett said.
Crockett is a five-year Red Raider who was recruited by Pat Knight in what seems like eons ago, in the 2008-09 season. He entered Texas Tech in 2009-10 and redshirted his first season before embarking on a full-length college basketball career.
In an era highlighted by an over reliance on teenage basketball mercenaries going through the motions before making the inevitable NBA jump, Crockett marks the exact opposite. He's old-school, rising from red-shirt to role player to program leader in a fair, successive order; in addition, he averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting .513 from the field, leading the program in all three categories.
These ideals and values were not lost on Smith, who spent the better part of his press conference lobbing some praise on Crockett for his stewardship of the Red Raider basketball program.
"It's always a memorable moment when you can win your final home game," he said of the senior class's accomplishment. "No one deserved it more than Jaye Crockett. He's put in a lot of hours on that court, and I'm proud that I had the good fortune to coach him. So this is a special time and a very good win for us."
Smith closed with a sort of verbal tip of the hat to his team's leader.
"He [Crockett] has served this program with distinction. He's the ambassador of this program. I can point to him as a guy of longevity and substance, and I think that's gonna help him."
Fellow senior Dejan Kravic, who had a quiet night with five points and five rebounds, made a key play down the stretch; with 6:40 to play in the contest and the Red Raiders trailing the Longhorns 45-41, Kravic cleaned up a Randy Onwuasor layup and was fouled hard, tumbling to the ground as the crowd of 12,429 roared in approval. The Longhorns, who had maintained their strong form all game, unraveled shortly thereafter.
Kader Tapsoba, a graduate student like Kravic and Crockett, was given the nod to start and managed 13 minutes, while Jamal Williams Jr. – also a starter that afternoon – scored three points. Williams, the lone true senior, is expected to graduate in the spring.
Outside of an improbable run in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City – the Red Raiders have a date with Marcus Smart's Oklahoma State Cowboys one more time, on Wednesday – this could be the swan song for the Red Raider basketball team as a new horizon emerges. Tubby Smith came into the job knowing he had to rebuild the confidence of both his players and Texas Tech's fanbase, and at this juncture it is easy to proclaim he has done both.
To defeat the Texas Longhorns, a notable basketball program that defeated its own personal demons and managed to win 22 games, marks another step towards the goal Smith set out for the Red Raider program when he arrived in Lubbock.
And it's a pretty good icing-on-the-cake as well.
"The only way that this could've been better is if it was A&M," Crockett said.
We'll leave it at that.
Seniors Ride Off Into Sunset
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