KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Head coach Tubby Smith knew his first year at Texas Tech would be a process.
The Red Raiders, after starting out conference play 5-6, dropped six of their last seven regular season games to give Smith his first losing season (14-17) as a head coach.
“We knew it was going to take time, but we expected to win more games,” Smith said. “We were giving ourselves a chance even in the tough losses against Kansas, Kansas State at home, West Virginia, Iowa State.”
Tech’s chances looked good in the opening minutes of the first game of the Big 12 Conference Championships Wednesday night, but they soon grew slim as the Oklahoma State defense took over and defeated the Red Raiders 80-62 at the Sprint Center.
Jaye Crockett led the Red Raiders with 20 points followed by Dejan Kravic with a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds.
With a size advantage, Tech wanted to play inside-out and outscored the Cowboys in the paint 38-24 for the game.
Those points were big inside, but not big enough, as Tech struggled from behind the arc.
Freshman Stan Mays made the only 3-pointer for the Red Raiders with 30 seconds left in the game to increase Tech’s streak of games with a three-pointer to 109.
“I mean, it was kind of the game plan,” Kravic said. “Our coach tells us to play inside out. So our purpose was to just post up, post up real strong, look for the ball outside and kick it out. If we don’t then go up aggressively.”
Tech started the game on an 8-0 run, thanks to 100 percent shooting from the field and limiting the Cowboys to one shot or less.
After awhile, however, OSU started boarding their misses and scoring second-chance points.
“We kept making unforced turnovers,” Crockett said. “We just kept giving them the ball. That was something that we went over in our scouting report at Oklahoma State. They had like 23 points off of turnovers and we knew that was something we needed to stop with the turnovers and stop being so careless with the ball. And we just went back to our old habits and it killed us in the end.”
The Cowboys then got into their full-court press and half-court trap, something Tech struggled with in Stillwater last month.
Tech finished with a whopping 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and OSU scored 22 points off of those Tech miscues.
“I think we were just rushing it too much,” Kravic said. “We didn’t really meet the passes ... We let it get in our heads instead of just slowing it down.”
The Red Raiders also struggled with on-ball defense in the first half.
Oklahoma State was 17 for 26 during that time at the free-throw line while Tech was only 3 for 4.
“We were so dysfuncional as far as executing,” Smith said. “It’s hard to — when you’re always retreating because you turned the ball over, your mindset it — you’re making stupid plays offensively and just reaching and fouling people on three-point shots. It negates any hustle, any opportunities you might have.”
Markel Brown led the way for the Cowboys with 20 points (18 in the first half), followed by Marcus Smart with 18, Phil Forte with 14 and Le’Bryan Nash with 10.
Halfway through the first half, the Red Raiders were trying to answer a 23-5 Oklahoma State run when Crockett went down on the defensive end.
Smart sank a 3-pointer on that possession but Tech was more concerned about the health of its senior leader.
It turned out to be a bone bruise and was told that if he played, he wouldn’t injure his knee more but it would be painful.
“The doctor wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything torn in there,” Crockett said. “Found out it was just a bruised bone, but it’s fine. The doctor came and our trainer looked at it and they said it was fine, (so I) continued to play.”
At that moment, the air was knocked out of a Red Raider team that was trying to make a comeback.
They still couldn’t solve the problem Oklahoma State’s full court press presented and the Cowboys seemed to be scoring at will.
Texas Tech went into the locker room down 23 in desperate need of Crockett’s leadership.
“Well, Jaye’s our heart and soul,” Smith said. “He plays with everything. He gives it everything he has. He’s a young man that will play at the next level. Maybe not at the NBA, but he’s certainly one of the most gifted players I’ve had the good fortune to coach over the years. He’s got excellent leadership skills and is skilled offensively.”
The Red Raiders started the second half much like they did the first — on a 7-0 run and limited Oklahoma State to only one shot per possession.
Texas Tech both outscored (39-34) and outrebounded (21-11) Oklahoma State in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the halftime deficit.
After a strong start to the conference season, the Red Raiders have lost seven of their last eight games but will return 10 players next season.
“We lost a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “I think we’ve been heading in the right direction. Obviously that loss at Kansas and then the loss here really didn’t, I don’t think it really is indicative of how hard our kids have played and how they’ve overachieved in some ways. Having said that, I’m excited about the future and I think some of the returning players are going to have to really step it up and improve in order for us to be competitive in this league. With the new players we have coming in, I think we’re going to be okay.”
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