It probably wouldn’t have made sense if it had been easy.
After a tumultuous offseason that grabbed national attention for all the wrong reasons, adversity was sure to greet the Texas Tech basketball team in its season opener against Prairie View A&M on Friday at United Spirit Arena.
But the Red Raiders overcame it all enough to earn a 89-79 victory in the head coaching debut of Chris Walker, who took over the program on an interim basis a month ago following the resignation of Billy Gillispie.
The night ended with Walker being handed the game ball inside the Texas Tech locker room by athletic director Kirby Hocutt, as Tech players clapped for the 42-year-old who sits in the head coach’s chair after 17 seasons as an assistant.
“The first thing I did was thank my players,” Walker said. “As I told them, ‘This will be etched in stone. I will always remember you guys no matter what happens in my lifetime.’”
Jordan Tolbert scored 16 points on perfect 7-of-7 shooting and added seven rebounds. The stellar performance came just a few weeks after his father passed away.
“My heart goes out to that kid,” Prairie View coach Byron Rimm II said.
Many of Tolbert’s scoring opportunities came after strong dribble penetration from the team’s guards. As a freshman, Tolbert was often asked to create offense on his own as a result of Tech’s lack of play-making ability. He said he’s happy to have some of the pressure off.
“The good thing for him is that we have guards who can make plays,” Walker said.
One of those guards, Jamal Williams, was one of seven Tech players who made debuts with the team. He spent much of the last week with his mind on his family on the East Coast who have been dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. During a practice this week, Walker said he had to get on Williams about bringing the right attitude every day.
He responded by scoring 15 points, including four 3-pointers in his major-college debut. The final long-range shot helped Tech stem the tide in the second half, as the Panthers trimmed a 20-point deficit down to eight midway through the second half.
“Hand down, man down,” Williams said. “If I saw it, I shot it.”
Walker was pleased to see that it was Williams who clapped his hands, smiled and shouted words of encouragement to teammates as the lead dwindled.
“He’s an energy guy; I always call him Bruce Bowen,” Walker said. “Today he played like it.”
The Red Raiders (1-0) had a 51-31 lead after a Dusty Hannahs hit a 3-pointer with three minutes left in the first half, but the Panthers (0-1) chipped away and trimmed the deficit to 71-63 with 11 minutes to go in the game.
But then Williams hit the 3-pointer, and the Red Raiders held on from there for an opening night victory.
The game was sloppy on both ends, with the two teams combining for 48 fouls.
Daylen Robinson scored 14 points and Josh Gray chipped in 10. Gray, the highly point guard out of Houston Wheatley, showed impressive flashes, but he also committed five of Tech’s 17 turnovers and shot 5 of 14 from the floor.
Trency Jackson, another of Tech’s transfer guards, was held out because of disciplinary reasons.
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