Back from the Dead: Tech 63, Air Force 62

Texas Tech erased a 19-point deficit to defeat Air Force on Sunday at United Supermarkets Arena. The Red Raiders moved to 4-1 on the season with the win.

It is often said that basketball is a game of runs. The battle between Texas Tech and Air Force produced exactly two. The first, which lasted 27 basketball minutes, gave the Falcons a 46-27 lead over the Red Raiders. The second, which comprehended the final 13 minutes of play, handed Tech a borderline miraculous 63-62 victory.

The visitors’ dominance was near total for most of the game. At halftime Air Force doubled up the Red Raiders, 32-16. In that half, Falcon guard Max Yon had as many points as the entire Tech team, and the Red Raiders had almost as many turnovers—13—as points. Tech shot 29 percent from the floor in the opening stanza, while Air Force drained 54 percent of their attempts, and half of their salvos from three-point range.

It was, suffice it to say, the worst half of basketball the Red Raiders have played this season.

The first seven minutes of the second half were no better as the bumbling Red Raiders slipped into the 19-point hole on Yon’s trifecta with 13 minutes to play. Tech wasn’t showing a pulse, and the home crowd was chanting out the last rites.

But just when it appeared all was well and truly lost, the Red Raiders found themselves. Over the next three minutes Tech trimmed the lead to 15 points on a Justin Gray jumper with 11:35 to play.

Then, at roughly the 10-minute mark, Tubby Smith made the change that completely transformed the complexion of the game. To wit, he went with an incredibly small lineup featuring Gray, Toddrick Gotcher, Randy Onwuasor, Devaugntah Williams and Robert Turner. There wasn’t a Red Raider on the court taller than 6-foot-6.

That lineup featured heavily until Gray injured his hip following a missed free throw at the 3:21 mark with the Red Raiders still trailing 60-52. From that point out it was Zach Smith and the four guards.

Despite the lineup change, and intense full-court pressure that cut Air Force’s lead in half, Tech’s situation was still dire as they trailed 62-53 with 2:11 to play. But from there, the Red Raiders went on a frenzied 10-0 run.

Williams hit a layup with 2:10 to play. Gotcher followed it was a three-pointer at the 1:26 mark. Smith blocked a Yon layup with 53 seconds remaining, and Turner hit a layup five seconds later to make the score 62-60.

Following an Air Force turnover, Williams darted down the lane, took a feed from a double-teamed Turner, and threw down a jam to tie the game at 62. Turner got a steal at the 26-second mark and was fouled three seconds later. He hit one of two free throws giving the Red Raiders their first and only lead of the game. The Falcons missed a pair of layups in the final seconds, Williams corralled a defensive rebound, and the unlikely victory was in Tech’s possession.

Ultimately, this win was all about the Red Raiders’ ability to adjust on the fly.

The first adjustment was simply becoming acclimated to playing against a “Princeton offense” that is more often talked about than encountered. Tech tried to simulate this offense in practice, but there was, of course, no way they could recreate the precision and execution the Falcons confronted them with.

Eventually, however, the Red Raiders found they could short-circuit Air Force’s offense by subjecting it to the “40 minutes of hell” popularized by Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas Razorbacks. In Tech’s case, it was, however, a mere 13 minutes of hell.

The second adjustment was learning to play with four guards and only one “big.” This alignment was radically different than anything the Red Raiders use in practice, let alone games, and it was a testament to Tech’s adaptability that they were able to make it work in a pressure-packed situation.

With any luck the Red Raiders won’t need this lineup against the Auburn Tigers, who pay Tech a visit 8:00 p.m. Wednesday at United Supermarkets Arena.

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