*After two straight one-point losses, and four Big 12 losses by a total of 10 points, you had to wonder if perhaps the extreme rigors of this season may have kicked the heart out of this Red Raider team. Certainly there were fans who had given up on them; mightn’t the team itself do the same?
In defeating No. 4 Baylor 84-78 on a rainy night in Lubbock, Texas Tech answered that question with a resounding negatory. The Red Raiders were sharp at the outset, building up a 12-point lead, before encountering what seems to be the obligatory lull, trailing by four at the half, and losing by as much as nine points in the second half. Yet, rather than packing it in and taking their licks from a rugged defensive Baylor team, Texas Tech flicked on the supercharger and screamed past the Bears to win the game convincingly if not necessarily comfortably.
In doing this the Red Raiders have shown their mental mettle. This is a team that believes in itself and its coaches, regardless of how bleak the circumstances may seem.
They have also shown that they are an upward tick, even though the won-lost record may not indicate so. The Red Raiders are playing the best teams in the country and are competing with them every step of the way. And against the Baylor Bears, Tech finally got its reward.
But this is hardly the time to celebrate overmuch. To have a shot at the NCAA tournament the Red Raiders (17-9 overall, 5-8 in the Big 12) must finish their final five games with a real flourish, and that means taking out West Virginia on the road this Saturday. Tech hasn’t won a conference road game all season, so this is the final remaining hurdle, and if they can’t clear it, they almost certainly won’t make the Dance. Do not, however, bet against this team rising to the challenge. It is made of pretty stern stuff indeed.
*This game broke down into three phases. The first was dominated by Texas Tech. During this phase, which lasted from the opening tap to the 15:40 mark of the first half, and in which Niem Stevenson was the superlative player, concluded with Tech owning a 12-point lead. Texas Tech’s offensive productivity was off the charts, and they did a solid job of stifling Baylor’s offense as well.
The second phase commenced at the conclusion of the first, and continued to the 15:13 mark of the second half. During this period, the Red Raider offense went largely dormant, and the Bears (22-4, 9-4) began finding the stroke, inside and out. Terry Maston, who had been a peripheral player for the Bears, began producing like Johnathan Motley, who Tech locked up, and Manu Lecomte, largely a point distributor began scoring at a torrid clip. When this segment of the game was all said and done, the Bears were up by nine points, and it frankly looked as if the visitors would slowly constrict the home team and leave with a workaday W.
But the Red Raiders had other ideas. Rather than go gently into that good night, Texas Tech bowed up, stormed back, caught the Bears on a Devon Thomas free throw with 7:09 remaining, led by 10 with 56 seconds to play, and finished the game six points to the good. Texas Tech outscored Baylor 45-30 over the final 14:28.
*Bear point guard Manu Lecomte fouled out with 8:29 after picking up a personal foul, and then a technical foul for barking at the official. In point of fact, he should have fouled out long before this. Lecomte is a master of grabbing and holding and getting away with it. The perfect example came on Texas Tech’s final possession of the first half. As Keenan Evans tried to cut across Baylor’s zone defense, Lacomte literally put Evans in a bear-hug. But rather than hit Lacomte with an intentional foul, the refs hit Aaron Ross with a foul. This was an egregious botch-up by the refs, and it was thanks only to Evans’ pleasant disposition that he didn’t go postal and draw a technical—or worse—of his own.