KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Keenan Evans didn’t just say it once.
He said it multiple times — “We can’t overlook them.”
The junior guard wasn’t just mindlessly using a cliche to get through an interview.
There was purpose behind it.
“Just because you beat them once or twice doesn’t mean you can just walk in and beat them again,” Evans said. “You have to come ready to play every game.”
This time a year ago, the Red Raiders (18-13, 6-12) had plenty of momentum entering the Big 12 Championship. Texas Tech put together a 9-9 record in conference play and seemed all but cemented into the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Raiders, a seven seed in the conference tournament, opened things off against TCU. Tech had already beaten the Horned Frogs twice by an average of seven points.
But in Kansas City, Texas Tech struggled from the floor and barely made it to the free-throw line, while TCU finished shooting nearly 50 percent from deep and put up a dozen more free throw attempts than Tech.
The Horned Frogs didn’t have anything to lose a year ago.
And now, neither does Texas (10-21, 4-14).
“They’re trying to get better for next year and just get better in general,” Evans said. “They have a point to prove. They’re trying to go on a run as well.
It’s only been a week since the Red Raiders and Longhorns battled in Lubbock. Tech won that one 67-57 behind double digit efforts by Evans, Justin Gray and Aaron Ross. Earlier in the regular season, the Longhorns held on in Austin for a four-point victory.
The biggest difference between the two contests came on the defensive end for Texas Tech. While Shaquille Cleare got things going early inside, Tech made the necessary adjustments to keep Texas from playing inside out.
After Jarrett Allen went off for 19 in Austin, the Red Raiders did a better job of controlling his touches. The Longhorn freshman only shot seven times — his lowest amount in conference play.
“I thought we played some of our best post defense,” Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We obviously are in a huge disadvantage size and athleticism-wise. Shaq and Allen, I thought we played one of our better team defensive games.”
But it wasn’t just the Texas Tech bigs who were putting in work. The help side defense was there which allowed an extra defender to slide over and add some more pressure.
Also, Tech defended the ball better. Instead of sagging back and letting the Longhorn defender get a good look at the court and decide who to pass the ball to, the Red Raiders were right up on the ball.
Then the Texas players weren’t able to see the court as clearly which made them settle for a perimeter pass rather than work it inside out.
“That’ll have to continue because there’s no way we can stop those guys,” Beard said. “We have to at least contain them to make other players on the Texas roster beat us.”
Allen and Cleare combined to score nearly 40 percent of the Longhorns’ points in Big 12 play. On the season, 48.2 percent of Texas’s points come inside the paint.
Besides that, the Longhorns have scored 27.4 percent off of jumpers outside the paint and 24.4 percent off of 3-pointers.
Texas is the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 at 29.5 percent on the season.
“They have some shooters on their team that can get hot but their priority is getting the ball inside so we’re trying to take that away,” Evans said. “If they throw it out we’re trying to run them off the line as well.”
At this point, Texas Tech is fighting more for a higher seed to host in the NIT rather than receiving a bid for the NCAA Tournament.
There’s still a chance for the Red Raiders to go dancing.
But, they will have to win it all in Kansas City. In the history of the Big 12, the lowest seed to win the tournament title was Iowa State as the four-seed back in 2014.
Since the league went to 10 teams, no team that has played the first day of the tournament has gone on to win it.
Along with the usual game preparation of film, practice and putting up extra shots, Beard has had his team watch Survive and Advance, the 30 for 30 documentary on N.C. State’s title run in 1983.
“I think it just gets you in the right mindset for tournament play,” Beard said. “My deal as a coach is to just try to get these guys prepared but also get them confident. Try to extend the season. Just want to play another day.”
TEXAS TECH (18-13, 6-12)
Name Pos. Ht. Pts. Reb. A.
Evans G 6-3 15.7 2.7 3.1
Gray G 6-6 9.2 5.4 1.8
Smith F 6-8 12.6 7.3 1.4
Ross F 6-8 9.5 2.8 1.3
Livingston F 6-8 9.9 3.7 1.2
TEXAS (10-21, 4-14)
Name Pos. Ht. Pts. Reb. A.
Andrew Jones G 6-4 11.3 3.8 3.5
Kerwin Roach Jr. G 6-4 9.8 3.9 3.8
Eric Davis Jr. G 6-3 7.4 2.5 1.1
Jarrett Allen F 6-11 13.6 8.5 0.8
Shaquille Cleare F 6-8 8.4 4.8 0.5