Chris Beard’s eighth-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders presented Texas with several challenges similar to those they had already faced this conference season. Could they survive without sophomore guard Andrew Jones? Could they hold serve with another top-rated Big 12 team? Could they hold a double-digit lead during conference play? Tonight, Shaka Smart’s Longhorns answered each with an emphatic yes.
Junior Kerwin Roach, returning to action after a hand injury, scored a season-high 20 points including 8-of-9 from the line, and freshman Mohamed Bamba put up 15 and 11 adding five blocks, helping Texas hold the Red Raiders 22 points under their season average in a 67-55 victory in front of an energized 12,396 at the Frank Erwin Center.
Roach received word his hand injury had healed on Wednesday morning around 8 a.m. When he got into the game, he entered with some nervousness.
“Just got cleared today, so it was a game-time decision,” Roach said. “First half, I was kind of nervous. I really felt like a freshman when I went in but I just settled my nerves with my first bucket and went from there.”
His head coach said he didn’t find out until much, much later.
“I was walking out to the court at the beginning of the game and I turned to the trainer and asked, ‘can Snoop play or not?’ and he just winked at me,” Smart said. “So that’s how I found out. It’s huge what Roach was able to do for our team tonight, because you have an extra level of athleticism and burst as a team when he’s in there. “
Texas found itself in a familiar position; up double-digits with just over 10 minutes left. For the entire season, Texas has struggled to hang onto leads when they tried to run clock as opposed to getting out in transition like they would prefer.
It looked as if Texas would continue the trend of giving up leads late in conference games, but even after Texas Tech cut the lead to four, the Longhorns stayed consistent and kept pounding. Junior Eric Davis hit a three-pointer with six-and-a-half minutes left to extend Texas’ lead to eight. The Red Raiders and the Longhorns traded buckets, but another Davis three pointer with three-and-a-half minutes left bumped the lead back up to double-digits. From that point, Texas would make free throws and hold Tech on defense to earn a hard-fought victory over the eighth ranked team.
“Texas Tech is a terrific team and I thought our guys did a really nice job of playing with really good focus and energy,” Smart said.” “You need both to beat a team like that, and I thought we had that for a majority of the game.”
Texas found success with every style of defense it played. A majority man-to-man defense in the first half held the Red Raiders to just 24 points, but Texas’ offense, anything but high-powered, only managed 29. In the second half, Smart switched to a 2-3 defense with Bamba in the middle. The 7-foot New Yorker continued to serve as an elite college rim protector, swatting five shots and adding two steals while only collecting two fouls.
In addition, the returning Roach allowed Texas to be much more active on screens and switches against the Red Raiders’ guard-centric lineup. Texas held a team that shot 48.6 percent from the floor entering the game to just 38.2 percent, 35 percent from three to just 25.9 percent, 70 percent from the free-throw line to just 60 percent on one less attempt than their average made per game, and 79.6 points per game to just 58.
Roach’s return, season-high scoring effort, and defensive prowess led the Longhorns, but Texas had five players provide really good efforts. Earlier in the week, Smart said to win in the Big 12, a majority of his guys would have to play well on a given night. He got five performances he was looking for from Davis, Bamba, Roach, freshman Matt Coleman, and junior Dylan Osetkowski. Coleman added eight points and seven assists, while Osetkowski dropped 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting from inside the arc.
Coleman’s progression as a Big 12 point guard has been impressive, but he tried to do something that coaches normally allow only veteran point guards to do. Prior to the first TV timeout of the second half, Smart was trying to call a specific play, but Coleman wanted another play and kept motioning for it until Smart ceded to his freshman. The play didn’t work out, but Smart said he doesn’t necessarily mind that from his primary ball-hander.
“He was very adamant and very confident in waving me off,” Smart said. “I’m good with that as long as the play works. The best point guards that I’ve been around have had that right and that confidence and ability to do that, but they make it work too. Typically, it takes a little bit of time to get to that. He’s in his eighteenth game tonight. I like having someone that can think about what we want to do, and he and I will keep communicating about what that should be or needs to be on a given play.”
Texas also made sure to pound the paint, scoring almost half of its 67 from inside the lane.
“We knew we had an advantage inside,” Osetkowski said. “Playing inside-out like that gave us great looks inside and out when they came to double. We want to play like that every game. It opens up a lot of things for us.”
Where Texas Tech shot much worse than their season averages, the Longhorns shot much better. 51.1 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 71.4 percent from the line were vast improvements over their season averages.
This, along with a tenacious defensive effort where Texas Tech was forced to put up difficult shots late in the shot clock, gave Texas momentum they needed to win this game. The Longhorn defense held Texas Tech’s leading scorer in Keenan Evans well below his season average, and starting center Norense Odiase scoreless. This was the effort Smart and his staff needed heading into a tough nationally-televised matchup in Morgantown on Saturday against West Virginia.
“West Virginia, they’re coming off a tough game on Monday,” Smart said. I would imagine that practices this week are spirited to say the least. We’ve got to be ready to match their level of intensity because they’re going to come out breathing fire in that game. They’re going to come out with a level of physicality. They’re going to try to punk us. They’re really, really tough-minded, so we’ve just got to be ready to match that.”