*The second half of this TCU game was the most important half of basketball Texas Tech played this season. Trailing by a dozen, and frankly in a bit of hot water, the Red Raiders were in danger of losing at home to the Big 12’s cellar-dweller, with games at Kansas and West Virginia, as well as a home clash with Kansas State remaining on the schedule. In the aftermath of a home loss to the Frogs, an impartial observer would look at the final three games on Tech’s slate and question whether the Red Raiders would get another win. The game at Kansas would appear borderline impossible, the contest in Morgantown a highly probable loss, and given Tech’s bad loss in Manhattan earlier this season, the second match in Lubbock would be a tossup.
So, after the euphoria stemming from Tech’s thunderclap burst onto the cusp of an NCAA tourney berth, which presupposed wins over TCU and Kansas State, the grim reality of ending the season on a four-game skid would have been staring the Red Raiders in the face.
Would a Red Raider team that had lost its final four still be a NCAA tourney contender? Would they suddenly be on the wrong side of the bubble? No matter how you slice it Texas Tech would have been in dire need of a deep run in the Big 12 tournament to secure any likelihood whatsoever of making the Big Dance.
From giddiness to gloom. From magic to misery. Typical Tech. This all would have suffused the atmosphere surrounding the Red Raider basketball program like a ghastly miasma arising from unhallowed ground.
And THAT is why Tech simply had to have the comeback over the Frogs. The fact that they got it is further testament to their grit, and to Tubby Smith’s mastery as a basketball coach. Even still, the Red Raiders dodged an entire fusillade of bullets in Lubbock on February 23. Whew.
*There were many critical components to the comeback victory, but for my money the most important of them all was the fact that the Red Raiders came back in a swarm of lightning rather than through a long, arduous, uphill grind.
Tech erased the 12-point deficit completely with a full 14:40 remaining on a Zach Smith layup. With 13 minutes still to play, the Red Raiders took the lead on a Smith flush which capped a Devon Thomas steal and ally oop.
Anybody who has watched much basketball has seen teams make dramatic comebacks from large deficits, actually taking the lead finally in the waning moments, only to fall back and lose because the energy expended in coming back left nothing with which to seal the deal. But because Tech came back almost effortlessly, they still had fuel in the tank to close out the Frogs.
*Devon Thomas played a modest 17 minutes, scoring four points on 2-of-2 shooting, dishing out a pair of assists, and recording two steals. There’s nothing necessarily earth-shattering in that, but do not underestimate the importance of what he did. With Keenan Evans in foul trouble the Red Raiders absolutely had to have solid play from his replacement if they were going to complete this utterly critical comeback. They got that and more besides. Tubby Smith thought so as well, inasmuch as he reported congratulating Thomas on his play and telling him how proud he was of his success in adjusting to Power 7 basketball.
*Tubby Smith reported that Norense Odiase is now running, and that there is hope that he will be able to return and help the Red Raiders in the event of postseason play.
*As relieved as I was over Tech’s victory, I was also saddened for TCU’s coach Trent Johnson. His team played probably their best basketball game of the season and got little more out of it than a loss. He was extremely soft-spoken and rather lifeless in the postgame press conference. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tears shed in the TCU locker room. Losses such as this are why you have to be extraordinarily mentally tough to last long in the coaching game. I do not envy them the emotional trauma they endure on a fairly regular basis.