Andy Ellis had to endure his fair share of losing at Texas Tech.
The former Red Raider forward, who currently serves as the team’s radio analyst, suffered a shoulder injury midway through a promising sophomore season in 2000, (he was averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game), and Tech, hampered by his absence, lost its first nine Big 12 Conference games.
A year later, the final season under coach James Dickey, the Red Raiders again struggled, finishing 3-13 in the Big 12 for the second straight time.
In other words, Ellis knows, at least to a degree, what this season’s Red Raiders — who have lost five straight to begin Big 12 play — are experiencing. Breaking through, he said, is as much a mental endeavor as a physical one.
“I think it’s more at that point about your mental toughness,” said Ellis, who played professionally overseas following his career at Tech. “It’s also about mental alertness. You know the coaches are going to work hard with you every time, and I think this team has worked hard every day. There hasn’t been an issue with that. But you have to be mentally alert about what is causing you to lose games and learn how to fix it.”
There are myriad problems in need of fixing for the young Red Raiders, none bigger than their turnover issues. Tech has coughed the ball up a dismal 44 times in its last two games and its assist-to-turnover ratio of roughly 2 to 3 (196 to 291) is the worst in the conference.
“We have to take care of the ball a lot better,” guard Ty Nurse said. “We need to play with better tempo, play faster and get our bigs the ball and put them in position.”
Nurse said the results have been discouraging — “When you put your heart into something and it doesn’t work out, obviously, it hurts a lot,” he said — but he added that the team’s morale hasn’t suffered amid a five-game losing streak.
“We’re just trying to stay positive,” Nurse said. “It’s been tough, but coach always tells us, whether win or loss, just practice as hard as you can every day. You can’t let the losses bother you. You can’t get your spirits down, you just have to keep fighting.”
The Red Raiders have faced an uphill battle this season due in large part to their inexperience. While most major-conference programs have the luxury of bringing freshmen along slowly, allowing them to be mentored by more experienced players, Tech coach Billy Gillispie has been forced to rely on first-year players heavily. Six freshmen have averaged at least 10 minutes per game.
“We knew what we were in for before we started,” Gillispie said. “We have faced really good teams and the Big 12 is a really good conference, and it’s going to continue for 18 games. I don’t see any lack of confidence, but that’s an individual thing. You only know how a guy appears to be. You don’t really know how a guy is feeling.
“These guys are young, trying to get better and they’re improving dramatically, but not — so far — good enough to win Big 12 games.”
Finding a way to secure that elusive first conference win — which Tech will attempt to do at 4 p.m. on Saturday when it hosts Iowa State — could do a lot for the team’s momentum, Ellis said. During the 2001-02 season, Ellis and the Red Raiders bounced back from back-to-back poor campaigns to go 23-9, earning the team’s first NCAA tournament bid in six years under first-year coach Bob Knight.
Ellis, who averaged 16.5 points and seven rebounds during that senior season, said that once the team began to win a few games, its confidence quickly grew.
“The mentality has to be an us-against-the-world attitude,” he said. “We’re going in there for a fight. It’s just a matter of executing.”
Nurse, too, believes a win could go a long way toward curing what ails the young team.
“We’ve been so close to getting a couple of wins,” he said. “We need to get over that hump and get that win so we can get the momentum rolling and get the fans back behind us. A win would definitely help us.”
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