How Sweet It Is: Texas Tech Headed To The Sweet 16!

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Keenan Evans
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 17: Keenan Evans /

Texas Tech defeated Florida Saturday night in Dallas to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005.

On a night when the Texas Tech defense played one of its best games of the season, ironically, the Florida Gators had two wide-open looks in the final ten seconds of the game.  Both clanged off the iron sending Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 with a 69-66 victory.

In front of a capacity crowd in Dallas, of which about 95% was clad in scarlet and black, Keenan Evans had another stellar performance to ensure his collegiate career would not come to an end in his hometown.

"“As that clock runs down, kind of look at it like, man, I don’t want my season to be over.” Evans said after the game.  “And these guys are the same way, so we’re just taking it into account that it’s senior night.”"

Evans’ team-high 22 points led three Red Raiders in double figures.  It continued a streak of fantastic play for the all-Big 12 1st-team selection.

In four the the Red Raiders’ past five games, Evans has scored at least 20 points.  His uptick in scoring is further proof that his injured toe, suffered in mid-February, is no longer a hindrance.

However, the signature play from the game came not on a Keenan Evans basket but on a thrilling assist.  With just over 30 seconds to play and Texas Tech nursing a 3-point lead, Evans lobbed an alley-oop to Zhaire Smith who brought the capacity Texas Tech crowd to a frenzied froth with a monster finish.

"“Coach drew up a pick-and-roll play for me. Zach came out. The guy kind of came out too hard, and I saw an opening, so I kind of split it. And Zhaire, Coach told him to be waiting right there. I was hoping he would make a 360 dunk again, but that didn’t work out. I saw him right there, and I threw it up, and he went up and finished it.” Evans said."

However, there was still work to do.  The Gators would answer with a quick layup to cut the lead to 69-66.  And that was when the madness started.

Florida double-teamed Evans in the corner off of the ensuing inbounds.  Evans attempted to split the defenders and lost the ball in a play that could have easily been called a foul.

In the scramble, Florida point guard Chris Chiozza drove and found Egor Koulechov for an open three from the corner.  The shot was off the mark but Florida came away with the rebound eventually giving KeVaughn Allen another open look from the corner to tie the game but again the shot was off the mark and the celebration began.

In a way, it was a fitting end to a game pitting Texas Tech’s elite defense against Florida’s three-point shooting style.  Tech held Florida to 6-22 from deep on the night.  Forcing the Gators to shoot 27.3% from the arc was a huge success and was key in creating a style of play in which the Red Raiders were comfortable.

"“…we knew if this game got in the 80s, no chance, start the bus. I guess at this level, start the jet.” Chris Beard Said. “So we wanted to control the game with our offense, tempo-wise. So with the game in the 60s and even at halftime, even though we were down one point, we felt comfortable with the pace. We weren’t going to beat Florida in the 80s or 90s, but we could play with them at this tempo game.”"

Interestingly, Texas Tech equalled Florida’s output from deep but did so on just 15 shots (40%).  It was part of a game plan in which the Red Raiders played a small lineup for virtually the entire game in order to be able to switch off of ball screens and try to run the gators off the three-point line.

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Texas Tech’s primary big men Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton played just five minutes combined  and scored just two points between them.  However, Zach Smith and Zhaire Smith played a combined 59 minutes and were responsible for 24 points and 12 rebounds.

Freshman forward Zhaire Smith had his best game of the season playing just 17 miles from where he played his high school basketball in Garland, Texas.   Smith had 18 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal.

But though Smith came close to a triple-double in the team’s biggest game of the season to date, it will be his alley-oop finish with 30 seconds to go that will go down in Texas Tech history as one of the program’s defining moments.  Ironically, it came 22 years to the day after Darvin Ham’s back-board shattering dunk versus North Carolina in round two of the 1996 tournament sent the program to its first Sweet 16.

The 1996 team fell in its next game to Allen Iverson and Georgetown.  Thus, the next bar to clear for this year’s Texas Tech team is to find a way to reach win a Sweet 16 game after the program has gone 0-2 (1996 and 2005) in the third round.  But there will be time to discuss that game later.  For now, just enjoy the fact that the ride will continue for another week.