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Red Raiders trying to push past final-second losses

Posted: February 12, 2017 - 10:06pm

For the fourth time in the past five Big 12 games, things just didn’t go Texas Tech’s way at the final buzzer.

At Baylor, the Red Raiders had a chance to either force overtime or steal a win with a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds to play.

In Austin, Texas made a 3-pointer to break a tie with 29 seconds to play and the Red Raiders couldn’t get a shot to fall on their end.

At TCU, the Red Raiders struggled from the free-throw line late and a few calls that didn’t go their way led to the Horned Frogs escaping with a one-point victory.

Then Saturday against Kansas, the final play could have gone two ways.

Landen Lucas could have been called for an illegal screen on Justin Gray which would have given Tech the ball with the score tied and five seconds on the clock, but it went unnoticed as Josh Jackson went to the bucket, got fouled and split his free throws to save the Jayhawks from getting upset on the road.

Looking back on it all, if the ball were to bounce Texas Tech’s way in these games, the Red Raiders could be at best 8-4 and tied for third in the league with West Virginia instead of 4-8 and sitting in ninth tied with Texas.

But that’s not how the game of basketball works.

At the final buzzer, one team wins and the other loses.

There is no going back and redoing it all over again for a different result.

What has to happen, though, is learning from late game heartache.

And Texas Tech — despite the win column — has done that.

“You just keep grinding,” Tech coach Chris Beard said. “In our league at this level, a lot of our games come down to one or two possessions. (Against Kansas) I thought we had some improvement. … We just have to make that next step. What you do is stay the course. You work at it and try to get better, keep coaching and keep working. I have a lot of confidence in our players.”

Defensive improvements

The Texas Tech team that hung close with No. 3 Kansas was a much improved squad from the one that got hammered at home by Oklahoma State.

Texas Tech played better defensively.

Sure Jackson went off for 31 points but that was really KU’s only offensive threat for the entire game.

Lucas did hit some shots, as did Svi Mykhailiuk, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, but those guys were mostly contained.

Mason was held to his fewest points (12) since Kansas played Long Beach State on Nov. 29. He also fouled out for the first time since KU’s season opener against Indiana.

Graham was held to his lowest point total (six) since the Jayhawks played at UNLV on Dec. 22.

It was that duo that hurt the Red Raiders back in January as they combined for 46 of KU’s 85 points.

“I’m sure that’s not the game (Mason) would like to play,” Beard said. “I thought we were dialed in defensively and put pressure on him to play defense. It was an active part of our game plan to try to get him in foul trouble.”

Since allowing Oklahoma State to come in to United Supermarkets Arena and erupt for 55 percent shooting from the floor, no Big 12 opponent since then has finished shooting better than 50 percent.

Attacking the other end

Offensively, Texas Tech has continued to be one of the better shooting teams in the Big 12 as the Red Raiders have shot at least 40 percent in all but two games this year.

One of those contests came at Texas when Tech shot only 35.6 percent from the floor.

But what has happened since that game is the Red Raiders’ shot selection has improved.

Beard has talked at length this season about the fine line between jump shots and driving the basketball.

Think back to that Oklahoma State loss when nearly half of the shots Tech took came behind the 3-point line.

A statistical trend that’s developed this year is that Texas Tech has a better chance of winning if it takes more free throws than its opposition.

The Cowboys made three more shots at the line than Tech even attempted.

Baylor made 16 more free throws than Tech shot.

But since the win over Oklahoma, the Red Raiders have been more aggressive more consistently.

Tech went 17-for-20 at the line while the Sooners were only 9-for-13.

Against TCU the more aggressive mindset was evident in the play of Anthony Livingston specifically.

The senior forward had gone 3-for-6 from the floor against Oklahoma with every one of those coming behind the 3-point line.

Against the Horned Frogs, Livingston started to back his defenders down toward the basket and go to work with his old school post moves.

On Saturday against Kansas, the Red Raider guards attacked the KU defenders early and often.

If it wasn’t Keenan Evans it was Niem Stevenson driving toward the hoop and finishing.

Those two finished with 25 and 22 points respectively, while the hard work in the unseen hours continues to pay off for Zach Smith who had 21.

“I think it’s awesome that Niem is picking it up in Big 12 play,” Evans said. “We want it to continue. With me and Zach it’s a given. We have to play like this every game for us to win. Next time we want to have the same stats but just come out with the W.”

Personnel

Evans has scored in double figures for 13 straight games and has scored 20 points more times (five) than scored in double figures (three).

Smith has also upped his game as he’s become a double-double machine for the Red Raiders, averaging 13 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

While those two have been consistent all year, Stevenson has shown improvement lately as he has put up 12 points per contest since the Baylor game.

“Offensively he’s very aggressive,” Beard said. “He’s certainly a guy we’re counting on for the rest of the season. When a junior college transfer comes in there’s always a transition period. Niem has remained unselfish and worked really hard.”

Those three had special performances against the Jayhawks, but Beard pointed out that Tech needed a fourth guy to step up.

It was almost Justin Gray who finished with nine points, but his play goes far beyond what can be put on the stat sheet offensively.

Gray recorded all four steals for Tech against Kansas and his hustle on the boards is vital for the Red Raiders.

Outside of those four, the other five Red Raiders combined for only two points.

Seniors Aaron Ross and Livingston went a combined 1-for-8.

Prior to this past week of competition, the Texas Tech bench averaged 22.3 points per game.

But more recently against TCU and Kansas, the Tech reserves combined for six points total.

“You can get away with some nonconference wins when you have two guys show up,” Beard said. “You will never win a Big 12 game unless you have three. To beat the top half of the league, you have to have three guys have special nights and you have to have that fourth or fifth guy.”

Projected starters

TEXAS TECH (16-8, 4-7)

Name Pos. Ht. Pts. Rebs. A.

Evans G 6-3 14.4 2.6 3.1

Stevenson G 6-5 7.2 3.0 1.5

Gray G 6-6 8.5 5.3 1.9

Smith F 6-8 13.0 7.8 1.4

Livingston F 6-8 11.5 3.8 1.3

BAYLOR (22-3, 9-3)

Name Pos. Ht. Pts. Rebs. A.

Lecomte G 5-11 12.6 1.9 4.2

McClure G 6-3 4.6 1.2 0.9

Wainright G 6-5 5.5 4.9 3.3

Motley F 6-1016.9 9.7 2.1

Lual-Acuil C 7-0 9.3 7.0 0.4

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