Texas Tech may already be out of the hunt for a Big 12 Conference title, but if college basketball has proven anything this season, it’s that pretty much any team has a chance to affect a conference race.
The Red Raiders (9-12, 2-8 in Big 12) will have their opportunity to throw a wrench in the Big 12 title picture at 6 p.m. today when they host red-hot, 17th-ranked Oklahoma State (17-5, 7-3), which is riding a five-game winning streak and, with another victory, would join Kansas and Kansas State in a three-way tie for first place.
Tech hasn’t been able to capitalize on the momentum of a surprise win against Iowa State last month, losing four consecutive games that have featured struggles on both ends of the court.
“We just have to fight, keep playing until the last game is over,” Tech forward Jaye Crockett said. “We could make a run in the (Big 12) tournament or win out right now. Anything is possible. It’s basketball.”
Tech lost by 34 points when it played at Oklahoma State on Jan. 19, and the Cowboys have been on a tear ever since. They snapped a 33-game winning streak for Kansas inside Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 2, then earned a thrilling overtime win against Baylor a few days later.
The Red Raiders, meanwhile, are coming off a 75-48 loss on the road against Baylor on Saturday, a game that marked the first time in 220 contests that Tech didn’t have at least one scorer in double figures.
That result provides a small window into the struggles Tech has endured offensively. The Red Raiders had hoped at the start of the season to be a more fast-paced outfit, but without the athletes to compete in the open court against top-tier teams in the conference, Tech has been forced to play a mostly half-court game.
At times, Tech’s action in those sets have produced some rhythm, but it has been hard to sustain. Put simply, Tech hasn’t been able to hit shots, converting just 37.8 percent of its attempts from the field during Big 12 play, second-worst in the conference behind TCU.
“What’s characteristic of an inexperienced team and a young team,” Tech coach Chris Walker said, “is when you can’t score on offense, they get their heads down. It’s the Charlie Brown syndrome. Then they can’t defend. Unfortunately, the offense affects the defense.”
Tech’s defense has regressed of late. Since limiting Iowa State to 51 points during an upset win Jan 23, the Red Raiders have surrendered 73.3 points per game during the four-game losing streak, and their 69.9 points per game yielded during Big 12 action are also a league worst.
Tech has found some success defending teams in the half-court, especially during home games against Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State. But the Red Raiders have had major difficulties keeping pace in run-and-gun affairs, which will make limiting Oklahoma State’s open-court opportunities a must if they have any chance of authoring a top-25 upset for the first time since 2009.
“Getting back in transition, that has hurt us a lot,” sophomore forward Jordan Tolbert said. “If we can get back in transition and try to get rebounds, we could do pretty good.
“It’s not impossible.”
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