On Wednesday the unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders will host the No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners. The Red Raiders are fresh off consecutive upsets over ranked Big 12 teams Iowa State and Baylor, but a Tech victory over OU would be classed an upset. Perhaps even a huge upset.
But in terms of magnitude, it would pale in comparison to what the 1984-85 Red Raiders pulled off on a chilly late January evening in the old Lubbock Municipal Coliseum.
Those Red Raiders, 11-5 and unranked, were facing the mighty No. 2 SMU Mustangs, coached by Dave Bliss and led by 7-footer Jon Koncak, the future fifth pick in the 1985 NBA draft, and 11-year stalwart in the league for the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic.
Adding extra tang to this game was the fact that No. 1 Georgetown had lost earlier that day to No. 3 St. John’s, virtually ensuring that the Mustangs would assume the mantle of college basketball supremacy with a win over lightly regarded Texas Tech. Given the correlation of forces, there were probably not many in the throng of 8,200 attendees who gave the Red Raiders much of a chance.
But unbeknownst to all but the initiates of the Texas Tech basketball camp, this was a Red Raider team that was coming together and destined to do great things. To this they served notice with their performance against SMU.
The game was very tight in the first half as neither team could gain a significant advantage.
SMU extended to an 18-12 lead on an 18-footer by burly forward Larry Davis of Lufkin.
The Red Raiders, behind Bubba Jennings, Ray Irvin and Quentin Anderson stormed back to tie the game at 18 on an Anderson layup over Koncak.
With just under nine minutes remaining in the opening half, Tech gouged out a three-point lead on a pair of baseline jumpers by the pride of Levelland, Dwight Phillips.
Three minutes later, Jennings drained a 25-footer (this was before the 3-point shot existed) and the Red Raiders were up 30-25. Tech maintained this cushion and led at halftime 36-31.
The Red Raiders came surging from the locker room and decked the Mustangs by raining 12 straight points on them during one stretch to take a 58-47 lead with 6:07 remaining in the game.
But great teams never go down easy, even on the road, and particularly when a No. 1 ranking is at stake. And thus it was with SMU, as over a period of 3:27 they scored a dozen straight on the Red Raiders to turn an 11-point deficit into a 59-58 lead with 2:40 showing on the clock.
A frenzied home crowd became nervous and silent.
During the final three minutes of the game the teams exchanged the lead five times, doubtless testing the cardiovascular fitness and the vocal cord strength of those in attendance. And when the Red Raiders, trailing 63-62, fouled SMU center Terry Williams with 26 seconds remaining, it looked like all of Tech’s efforts were for naught. Two free throws would give the Mustangs a two-possession lead.
But Williams missed the front end of the one-and-one. The Red Raiders still had a chance.
SMU would certainly be keying on Jennings, who had already pumped in 26 points, but Tech coach Gerald Myers’ primary concern was simply finding an open man, any open man, and letting him take the shot.
After Tech dumped the ball inside to 6-foot-9 Anderson, who was immediately blanketed, the Athens, Alabama native kicked the ball back outside. Eventually forward Vince Taylor, a defensive specialist, received the ball near the free throw line, and with the clock ticking down, spotted junior guard Tony Benford all alone on the baseline.
Benford took the pass, spun, and dropped home a high-arcing jumper with five seconds left to give the Red Raiders a one-point lead.
As this was occurring, your humble scribe, then 17 years old, was listening to the proceedings on a Philco radio in a 1976 Ford Thunderbird in the parking lot of a local juke joint called Fat Dawgs.
Texas Tech survived two late shot attempts by SMU and held on to the upset, and yours truly was never happier, nor has been since, to be missing out on the party.