FORT WORTH — There were plenty of reasons for Texas Tech coach Chris Walker to worry about what he might get out of his young team when its first road game of the season also doubled as its first Big 12 contest, a double whammy of firsts for eight of the team’s players.
It turned out Tech, which hadn’t left campus since a preseason scrimmage in October, may have just needed to stretch its legs a bit.
The Red Raiders put together their most complete game of the season on Saturday inside Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, beating TCU, 62-53, and matching their entire league win total from a season ago in the process. It was Tech’s first road conference win since Feb. 19, 2011 against Baylor, snapping a 10-game losing streak.
“It definitely feels good to get one under our belt,” said Jordan Tolbert, the hometown kid who authored another strong performance in front of family and friends. “It’s something to build on, and now we have to take it and build on it.”
Tech (8-4, 1-0 in the Big 12 Conference), which won only one conference game in 18 tries last season, got one right off the bat by receiving strong contributions throughout the lineup.
Tolbert narrowly missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Dusty Hannahs hit 4 of 5 3-point attempts for 12 points. Jaye Crockett bounced back from a rare off day Monday to score a team-high 13 points, providing a spark with a thunderous dunk in the second half and some clutch free throws in the game’s final minute.
“Everybody came out and played their roles,” said guard Trency Jackson, who was certainly no exception. “We’re always stressing that on good teams — top 5 teams, top 10 teams — everybody knows their role, and everybody plays their role to the best of their ability.”
Jackson played many. In addition to nailing a momentum-swinging 3-pointer in the second half, he also was one of a handful of players who provided air-tight defense on TCU guards Kyan Anderson and Garlon Green. The pair averaged a combined 25 points per game during non-conference action, but they were held to 15 points on 3 of 22 shooting Saturday.
“We just tried to force them to make the big guys make plays,” Walker said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but we did a good job of keeping it out of Green’s hands and Anderson’s hands. That was the game plan.”
Tech led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but TCU cut the lead to 37-33 on a Green jumper with 14:25 left in the game. But Jackson’s 3-pointer on Tech’s next possession kicked off a 13-4 run over the next six minutes, and the Red Raiders held off a late TCU surge to secure the win.
TCU forward Devonta Abron scored a game-high 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting, but he didn’t get much help. The Horned Frogs (9-5, 0-1) shot only 30 percent (10 of 33) in the second half.
The Red Raiders assisted on 14 of their 23 field goals — Daylen Robinson and Jackson tallied five and four, respectively — and executed at a higher level with their half-court offensive sets than they had all season. Screens were set with more authority, passes hit their mark and standing around was at a minimum. Tech still committed 16 turnovers, but Walker liked the progress.
“You realized playing earlier teams that we could just run up and down and score on them,” Walker said of Tech’s early season schedule. “As we start playing tougher competition, it’s just the evolution of a team, where you need more execution. We have an intricate system where we run a lot of plays and move people around a lot, and to be honest, standing around is not that bad for us sometimes because we like to pound it inside.”
The road only grows tougher from here. TCU is vastly inexperienced and decimated by injury. Much stiffer competition awaits for the Red Raiders, beginning with a home game against Baylor on Tuesday.
But Tech made sure to take time on Saturday, at least for a few hours, and enjoy a feeling that didn’t come around too often last season.
“We fought hard for it,” Tolbert said. “I’m just glad that my team played together.”
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