Freshman Duo Leads Texas Tech Basketball To Win Over Iowa State

LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 07: Zhaire Smith
LUBBOCK, TX - FEBRUARY 07: Zhaire Smith /

The Texas Tech basketball team received 37 combined points from freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver leading the team to a 76-58 win over Iowa State Wednesday in Lubbock.

A battle of true freshmen broke out at the United Spirit Arena in Lubbock on Wednesday night.  Texas Tech freshman duo Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver posted a combined 37 points to help the Red Raiders fend off a feisty Iowa State squad 76-58.

The Cyclones also relied on their freshmen stars, Cameron Lard and Lindell Wigginton, to keep them in the game for most of the night.  The pair posted 35 combined points but ran out of gas late and was hamstrung when Lard fouled out with 3:50 left to play.

Both Smith (21 points) and Lard (22 points) posted career best performances in a game that Iowa State led for just 32 seconds.  However, the game remained tight until the 6:07 mark of the second half.

That’s when Texas Tech went on a 16-5 run to end the game.  Smith was the catalyst for the run as he was for the Red Raiders virtually all night.

The Garland, Texas native was just as big of a force on the defensive end of the floor as he was on offense with a career-best tying 8 rebounds to go along with three steals and two blocked shots.  His energy on both ends of the court led to fantastic plays such as the one seen below.

"“That’s a necessity.” Chris Beard said.  “You can’t win in this league if you rely on your offense to score enough points to win…You gotta produce offense from your defense and tonight, in key moments, that seemed to be the case…”"

Meanwhile, Texas Tech superstar point guard Keenan Evans had a pedestrian night by his standards.  The back-to-back Big 12 player of the week scored 15 points but eight of those came in the final 2:38 of the game when Texas Tech was already up 13 points.  Evans recent hot shooting steak came to an end as he was just 6-16 from the field including 0-4 from three.

Fortunately, Smith and Cluver were up to the task of leading Texas Tech to its 9th Big 12 win and 20th win of the season (the program’s first 20-win season since 2006-07).  Additionally, the win helped Texas Tech remain tied with Kansas for first place in the Big 12 with seven conference games remaining.

The dynamic Texas Tech freshman tandem continues to redefine expectations for freshmen while playing a brand of basketball that compliments each other perfectly.  Culver has developed into one of the best on-ball defenders on the team as well as being a dangerous outside shooter.  Meanwhile, Smith is Texas Tech’s best rim protector and is often tasked with guarding much bigger forwards in the paint.  Offensively, his high flying acrobatics are earning him quite the reputation around the conference and even nationally.

"“I thought we played well.” Culver said of the freshmen’s performance. “Just trying feed off each other and play our role and do what we got to do for the team to win.  I just try to bring energy and [Smith] does too…”"

And if the Red Raiders want to dethrone Kansas as the Big 12 champions, Smith and Culver will have to continue to help Evans carry the offensive load.  Finding a second and third scoring option has been a challenge at time for Chris Beard and such is life when two true freshman are your second and third leading scorers.

But with 24 games now under their belts, Culver and Smith should no longer by measured by standards of true freshmen.  They are legitimate Big 12 stars and two of the most important cogs in the Texas Tech game plan.

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If Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver continue to produce at a consistent level, as they did Wednesday,  the Texas Tech basketball team could be in for something special.