*Texas Tech has flirted with the proverbial “signature win” on many occasions this season, but was always unable to seal the deal. But improbably enough, the Red Raiders, missing Norense Odiase, and with Matt Temple at reduced capacity because of an eye injury, Texas Tech finally managed to cash the check against the high-powered, No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones, 85-82 in overtime.
And let it be noted that the Red Raiders pulled the trick without playing their best basketball. For instance, Tech opened the game with an odd lack of focus. After Justin Gray started the show with two straight treys, the Red Raiders scored only five points over the next seven and a half minutes and trailed 16-11. Up to this point Texas Tech looked like a team coming off a weekend of partying in Tijuana. Still, the Red Raiders rallied and tied the game going into halftime.
But Tech started the second half almost as ineffectively as they began the game. The Cyclones, energized by the return of Deonte Burton, who played only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, came out with maximal intensity and the Red Raiders didn’t match it. ISU seemed almost unstoppable on offense, despite switching defenses and occasional full-court pressure. It seemed that Tech was powerless to get stops. And when a Burton fast-break dunk made the score 67-58 ISU with 8:58 showing on the clock, the Red Raiders looked to be in real trouble. The Cyclones felt it too as Morris egged on the Tech crowd with a “raise the roof” gesture and the ISU huddle celebrated boisterously.
We could also point out that, even after the Red Raiders came back from the brink of disaster, three missed free throws by Zach Smith and Justin Gray down the stretch prevented Tech from closing out the Cyclones in regulation.
So it was hardly a perfect game then. Which is what makes the win so impressive. Even when this team goes through lulls, which it does in just about every game, they never lose contact, and they always rally back. But until the victory over Iowa State, they had not been able to finish after coming back. Now that they’ve accomplished this task, under less than ideal circumstances, against a team that will be seeded highly in the NCAA tournament, perhaps this team will make a leap forward. If they do, they will be a nasty bunch from here on out.
*Here’s a bizarre stat for you: only six Red Raiders scored. But of those six, five scored 12 points or more. And to a certain degree, this is what defines the team. There is no single dominant player on the roster. Who is this team’s MVP? At this point, there isn’t one. But on any given night there are six players who are capable of jumping up and carrying the mail. It just so happens that against a potent Iowa State team, when you know you’re going to have to score many points to win, five of them rose to the occasion.
*Of the six players who scored, nobody named Toddrick Gotcher was among them. That’s right. Texas Tech’s No. 2 scorer went 0-for-7 in 25 minutes of play. But do not be deceived. Gotcher helped in other ways. He had a team high seven assists against only one turnover, pulled down a rebound and nabbed a couple of steals. That’s what a senior leader is supposed to do when his shot isn’t falling.
*Keenan Evans played possibly his best game as a Red Raider. Aside from hitting the winning 3-pointer, Evans Scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, swiped three boards, dished out two assists and got a steal. And he did this against the best point guard in the Big 12, and a player Tubby Smith terms “an NBA point guard,” Monte’ Morris. ‘Nuff said.
*It would be a bit much to say that there’s bad blood between the Red Raiders and the Cyclones, but it may be getting close to that. ISU got pretty cocky after building their nine-point lead, and in the post-game presser were not exactly diplomatic or complimentary. Georges Niang was particularly animated, intimating that the refs were the difference in the game, and saying about Evans’ winning shot, “A guy who shoots like 31 percent from three closes his eyes and throws it up there. It’s like being stabbed in the gut.” Head coach Steve Prohm was a bit more reserved, but even he said his team “deserved to win the game.” And for his part, Tubby Smith said of the foul called on Zach Smith against Niang in overtime, “Niang just runs into Zach’s knee and falls down.” Coach Smith saw a flop, and he saw correctly. In short, it was a heated game, and if these two teams meet in the Big 12 tournament it could be a real donnybrook.