Who: Texas Tech (16-9, 6-7) vs. Oklahoma State (12-14, 3-10)
Where: Stillwater, Oklahoma, Gallagher-Iba Arena
When: Saturday, February 20, 8:30 p.m. (CT)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
Notable: Texas Tech has lost 12 straight games in Gallagher-Iba Arena, and is 3-21 all-time in that venue.
Quotable: It’s really helped that a guy like Aaron Ross can stretch the defense and now Keenan [Evans] is making shots from the outside. He’s playing with confidence while running the team—really orchestrating our offense the right way while getting to the rim. Those things make a difference. Now people have to come out and guard us. Now we can attack the basket and get to the free throw line and do some things.”—Tubby Smith on Texas Tech’s offensive development
If all you look at is Oklahoma State’s fairly miserable win-loss record, you may not think the Cowboys present much of a danger to the surging Texas Tech Red Raiders. And while it is undoubtedly true that OSU is far from a premiere basketball team, it is equally true that they are better than their record suggests.
The reality is that many of Oklahoma State’s losses have been by small margins to very good teams. For instance, OSU lost 72-70 to Florida, 74-72 to Oklahoma, 74-69 to Texas, 69-65 to Baylor, 64-59 to Iowa State, and, of course 63-61 to Texas Tech. Slide those six games to the win column and the Cowboys take on a whole other aspect.
Still, the reality for the Cowboys is that, after losing ace guards Phil Forte Phil Forte and Jawun Evans to injury, the team packs little offensive punch. Jeff Newberry and Leyton Hammonds, who average 11 and 10 points per game respectively, are OSU’s only consistent scoring threats. In three of Oklahoma State’s last four outings the Cowboys have failed to eclipse the 60-point mark.
Ordinarily such offensive deficiency would result in regular blowout losses, particularly in a conference as stout as the Big 12. But Oklahoma State tends to keep games close by playing exceptional defense. The Cowboys only allow 67 points per game, and 40-percent shooting from their opponents. OSU has also gotten 39 more steals than have their foes on the season.
As Texas Tech has turned its season around with four wins in its last five games, including three straight over ranked opponents, the offensive balance of this team has become its defining characteristic. No Red Raider is a dominant scorer, but the squad possesses no fewer than six players (excluding the injured Norense Odiase) who are all very capable of rising up in any given game and singing the opposition. Those six are Devaugntah Williams, Toddrick Gotcher, Zach Smith, Aaron Ross, Justin Gray and Keenan Evans. All six average between nine and 11 points per game, with Williams topping the charts, and the rapidly improving Evans bringing up the hindmost.
This incredible balance presents major headaches for opposing coaches and players because there are not one or two players for the defense to key on, but six. Obviously, it is impossible to key on all five players on the court at any given time so defenses are reduced to trying to play sound but basic team defense in the hope of preventing a general breakout by Tech’s offensive forces.
This approach simplifies matters for Tubby Smith and his brain-trust, who then know what to expect and how to exploit it. Consequently two of Tech’s highest point outputs this season have come in their last three games—against Baylor and Iowa State.
The Red Raiders are still not an offensive juggernaut, but they are capable of igniting. And this fact, combined with Tech’s ever-solid defense and rebounding make the Red Raiders a strong candidate for participation in the NCAA tournament.