The heroes of Texas Tech’s first Big 12 Conference victory, a 65-47 dismantling of Oklahoma on Saturday, were easy to pick out.
Five-foot-11 sophomore guard Javarez Willis picked his spots, driving inside, scoring in transition and hitting mid-range and 3-point jumpers on the way to a career-high 21 points.
“I hadn’t been hitting shots lately,” Willis said. “(Tech coach Billy Gillispie) told me the reason I hadn’t been hitting shots was because I had been taking bad shots. I decided to change that.”
Then there was the team’s senior leader, Robert Lewandowski, who shook off a poor shooting first half to carry the team offensively in the second, when he scored 14 of his 16 points.
“It’s got to be hard for a senior the way it’s gone so far,” Gillispie said, “but he keeps battling and battling and battling. It’s always good to see good things happen to young people who do continue to battle.”
But while a pair of veterans led the charge, Tech would not have cracked the win column if not for its most complete team effort of the season, one with no shortage of supporting characters.
The Red Raiders turned the ball over a season-low seven times, and no player committed more than two. When Tech coughed up the ball 22 times Tuesday in a loss to Kansas State, the Red Raiders attempted 38 shots. On Saturday, better care with the ball resulted in 58 attempts.
Tech also forced 16 turnovers, limited Oklahoma to 32.7 percent shooting (18 of 55) and dominated in the paint, where it had a 28-6 scoring edge.
“That’s a pretty good formula for winning,” Gillispie said. “Not turning the ball over, not fouling too much (Oklahoma shot 13 free throws), defending and rebounding. That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year, because we have some guys who can hit some shots.”
Freshman Jordan Tolbert stayed away from the foul trouble that has plagued him at times this season, finishing with nine points and six rebounds. Ty Nurse shot just 2 of 10 from the field, but he hit a momentum-swinging 3-point goal in the second half and committed no turnovers while playing all 40 minutes, finishing with nine points.
Luke Adams made a pair of 3s and tallied six points, three rebounds and two assists. Adams, who also took two charges, and Willis took turns defensively in Tech’s box-and-one set guarding Oklahoma guard Steven Pledger, who entered the game averaging almost 18 points but finished with just four on 2 of 7 shooting.
“They did a good job of getting up into his body and taking away the catch-and-shoot,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They made him put it down (on the floor).”
Tech also received an emotional lift from walk-on forward Clark Lammert, who pulled down three rebounds in four minutes, playing just a day after learning of the tragic death of his best friend.
Though only seven Red Raiders played, Lewandowski said the contributions extended even further.
“The guys on the bench were as much a part of the win as anyone else,” he said. “They were cheering for us. They got us going in the huddle when things were slowing down. So it wasn’t a seven-man game. It was very much a 15-man game.”
It all equated to a formula Tech hopes it can harness as it embarks on the final third of the Big 12 schedule. That stretch begins with the last regular-season conference game against SEC-bound Texas A&M at 6 p.m. Tuesday in United Spirit Arena.
“Like Coach said, it’s the first,” Lewandowski said of the victory over Oklahoma, “but it won’t be the last.”