Niem Stevenson Could Be X-Factor For Texas Tech Basketball

MORGANTOWN, WV - FEBRUARY 26: Niem Stevenson
MORGANTOWN, WV - FEBRUARY 26: Niem Stevenson /

Senior forward Niem Steven scored a career-high 24 points in Texas Tech’s loss at West Virginia Monday night proving he is capable of being a much-needed offensive force for the Red Raiders.

It hard to find a ton of positives from the Texas Tech basketball team’s loss at West Virginia on Monday.  The Mountaineers jumped out to a 16-0 lead and coasted to an easy victory to pull even with the Red Raiders in the Big 12 standings.

However, the play of senior forward Niem Stevenson could be an encouraging sign as the team heads into March.  Against the team most consider to be the Big 12’s second-best defensive unit, Stevenson recorded a career-best 24 points on 9-20 shooting.

His offense was desperately needed on a night when Tech was without Keenan Evans, Zach Smith and Justin Gray each of whom sat out with injuries.  Moreover, Stevenson showed that he still has the ability to be an offensive catalyst for a Red Raider team that has struggled to score since Evans injured his toe on February, 17th at Baylor.

Stevenson was expected to be one of the team’s offensive leaders this season after his strong play at the end of last year.  During a four-game stretch in February of 2017, Stevenson averaged 19.2 points per game as it looked like he was starting to get comfortable in Chris Beard’s motion offense.

But with the unexpected emergence of true freshmen Zaire Smith and Jarrett Culver as offensive options for Texas Tech, Stevenson accepted a different role on the team this season.  He became a defensive stopper and ball-handler tasked with helping facilitate the offense while sacrificing offensive opportunities.

This year, Stevenson has seen his scoring average drop from 8.6 points per game last season to 7.3.  Where the biggest difference has come is in conference play.  Last season, Stevenson had nine Big 12 games scoring in double figures.  This year, that number is four.

However, two of those four games have come in the last three contests as the Red Raiders look for someone to take up the offensive slack while Evans works through his toe injury.

One area in which the Dallas native could be especially helpful is with his ability to hit from deep.  In the past three games, he is hitting 41% of his three-pointers.

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Without Evans at full speed, Texas Tech has lost a key weapon from long range and of the players that see significant playing time, Stevenson and Culver are the most likely to be threats from deep.  Stevenson is a career 37% shooter from behind the arc while Culver is hitting at a 40% rate.

Other players like Brandone Francis (41%) and Tommy Hamilton (38%) are hitting at a little higher rate than Stevenson but both see far less time on the court because they tend to be defensive liabilities.

Additionally, Stevenson is a steady ball-handler who is dishing out 1.8 assists per game while also splitting time with Culver in guarding the oppositions’ best scorers.  If Evans’ minutes continue to be limited, Stevenson will see his playing time increase.  Therefore, he must continue to be assertive with his offensive game.

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And should Evans return to form, Stevenson could still be a solid second or third scoring option that compliments Tech’s leading scorer.  While life without Evans is not fun, it may prove valuable for players like Niem Stevenson who could find another gear just in time for the postseason.