Balanced Red Raiders Subdue Loyola in Opener

Texas Tech defeated Loyola (Md.) 71-59 in the season opener Friday night at United Supermarkets Arena.

Following in the vein of their unsteady effort against Texas A&M-Commerce, the Texas Tech Red Raiders fell behind the Loyola Greyhounds early, but strong bench play and a fired up Norense Odiase lifted Tech to a solid victory, 71-59.

Odiase, the powerful freshman from Crowley, Texas, led the Red Raiders with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while also kicking in three blocked shots. But it wasn’t until Loyola’s Josh Forney popped Odiase in the gullet with an elbow at the 5:29 mark of the first half, drawing a flagrant call in the process, that Odiase really came to life. In the prior 14:31 Odiase had only four points and two rebounds. After the chin music, he poured in 12 points, eight boards and his three blocked shots.

But even before Odiase decided to get busy, strong bench play and hot three-point shooting was required to dig the Red Raiders out of a hole.

The visitors came out gunning, hitting five straight 3-point attempts to run out to a 15-4 lead with 15:00 still to play in the half. But then the Tech bench went to work.

Devaungntah hit a three-ball with an assist from Keenan Evans to make it 17-9. Toddrick Gotcher, on an assist from Alex Foster, hit another to cut the lead to 19-12. Williams, on a secondary fast break, took a nifty feed from Gotcher and drained yet another three pointer with 10:09 remaining to bring Tech to within four, 19-15.

Keenan Evans, aided by another Gotcher dish, knocked home a trifecta to pull the Red Raiders to within a deuce with 9:37 to play in the half. And when Evans rattled in a free throw at the 3:43 mark, Tech took its first lead at 30-29. Only once after that point would the Red Raiders trail, as they took a 35-33 lead into halftime.

Gotcher, who had two poor efforts in Tech’s exhibition games, and did not start against Loyola, was clearly the catalyst for the Red Raiders in the first half. In 12 minutes of action he scored six points, went two-of-two from the field, handed out two assists, and logged a steal, a rebound and a blocked shot.

Tech’s defense became increasingly disruptive in the opening half, and the Red Raiders finished the half with seven steals, Randy Onwuasor with four of them. Additionally, Tech’s bench was responsible for 24 of the team’s 35 points, and the squad as a whole shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in the opening stanza.

The Red Raiders came out strong in the second half, and were never seriously challenged by the Greyhounds.

When Devaugntah Williams drained his third 3-pointer at the 14:44 mark, Tech gained its first double-digit lead, 49-38. The Red Raiders led by as many as 16 late in the game before cruising home with the 11-point victory.

Tech’s starting lineup provided an interesting if overdue innovation as Onwuasor started at point guard and Robert Turner moved to his natural position at off guard. Furthermore, veterans Toddrick Gotcher and Clark Lammert, departing from their roles in the exhibition games, both came off the bench. And it was Gotcher who was the game’s unsung hero.

Also of note is Tech’s balance. Ten players played at least 13 minutes, and four—Odiase, Williams, Evans and Gotcher—scored in double figures. The Red Raiders are a deep team with many moving parts, which will allow Tubby Smith tremendous flexibility, and will provide a reservoir of talent to smooth out play when certain players are off their game. This depth will only be strengthened when big men Justin Jamison and Aaron Ross return from suspension and injury, respectively.

The Red Raiders are next in action 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at LSU.

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