*All in all, this was a solid win for the Red Raiders. And while the final score of 77-64 against a badly struggling LSU team may not seem terribly impressive, one should note that Texas Tech controlled this game throughout, establishing a double-digit lead with 7:47 remaining in the first half, and extending the lead to as much as 21 with 3:59 left to play.
The game was more lopsided than the final score would indicate. Note also that Texas Tech played this game without Keenan Evans (out with an injury), perhaps the team’s MVP, and the win looks even shinier. And finally, bear in mind that as I write, the SEC is leading the Big 12/SEC challenge 4-3, with Ole Miss leading Baylor, Kentucky leading Kansas, and Auburn leading TCU.
*There were numerous stars for Texas Tech on this day. Zach Smith played as well as he ever has en route to 25 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Aaron Ross chipped in 15 points. And Anthony Livingston kicked in another dozen. But the player whose effort in this game bodes best for the Red Raiders is Niem Stevenson.
The stats are good enough: 15 points on five-of-nine shooting, three rebounds and three assists. But he contributed even more than those numbers would suggest. With Keenan Evans on the bench, Stevenson provided Tech with an excellent replacement play-making guard who ran the point effectively for much of the game, and provided an excellent defensive alternative to Devon Thomas, whose lack of size can sometimes be a liability.
This was the second straight good game for Stevenson, who competed admirably at Baylor. If indeed, he is coming into his own, he will give Chris Beard the option of playing big, with attendant potential gains in rebounding, defense, and court vision against zone defenses. Stevenson may also bring more offense to the table than Thomas, although it is productivity of a different nature.
The most exciting thing about Stevenson, however, is his future. In the postgame presser Chris Beard averred that Stevenson is indeed improving as he acclimates to Power Seven basketball, but stated that Stevenson is nowhere near close to reaching his potential. Beard believes that Stevenson will one day be a truly superb player in the Big 12. These words augur well not just for the remainder of the current season, but for next year as well.
*Whenever teams show zone against the Red Raiders, my mouth responds as if somebody had set a perfectly prepared New York strip in front of me. I suspect the team responds much the same way. It has been clear since early in the season that Tech is well schooled in dissecting the zone, and that they are comfortable playing against it. Having multiple players who shoot the deep shot well, certainly helps, as does having players who pass and cut well. LSU made the mistake of opening the game in a zone, and the Red Raiders bombed them out of it in very short order. (Tiger boss Johnny Jones abandoned the zone less than three minutes into the game.) I don’t think Tech will see too much more zone for the remainder of the season.
*One of the more surprising aspects of this game was how well the Red Raiders rebounded in the second half. At halftime the Tigers held an 18-14 advantage on the glass. But when the smoke finally cleared, Texas Tech had 33 rebounds to LSU’s 25, and had scored 15 second-chance points to LSU’s four. The Red Raiders also grabbed nine offensive rebounds to LSU’s three. Magnifying these numbers, Texas Tech played zone for a good deal of the second half, but rebounded effectively nonetheless.
*At halftime Texas Tech had only two turnovers and four personal fouls.