Texas Tech basketball: Chris Clarke gives Red Raiders more scoring vs. LIU

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: The Texas Tech Red Raiders huddle before entering the court before the college basketball game against the LIU Sharks on November 24, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: The Texas Tech Red Raiders huddle before entering the court before the college basketball game against the LIU Sharks on November 24, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Sunday, the Texas Tech basketball team got a season-high eight points from grad transfer Chris Clarke one game after Chris Beard said that he needed to get Clarke’s offensive game going.

Chris Clarke may be one of the most unusual college basketball players we’ve seen in decades.  After all, when was the last time any of us can recall watching a player who liked he was trying to do anything except shoot the ball?  But for this year’s Texas Tech basketball team to reach its full potential, the veteran has to be more of an offensive threat the way he was in Sunday’s win over Long Island University.

Entering Tech’s fifth game of the year, the former Virginia Tech Hokie had attempted just eight field goals and six free throws in four games.   He had yet to score more than four points in a game and had not made more than one shot from the field in a single contest as a Red Raider, prompting Chris Beard to take it upon himself to get his senior’s scoring touch going after Clarke attempted only one shot despite playing a season-high 25 minutes Thursday against Tennessee State.

Apparently, that message was received because three days later, we saw a more aggressive game from the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder.  In 21 minutes against the Sharks, Clarke scored eight points on 2-5 shooting and 4-4 from the free-throw line.  His scoring output equaled what he had managed to score in Tech’s four other games combined.

That’s more along the lines of what this year’s team will need from Clarke given that he’s one of the most experienced players on the roster.  In fact, no Red Raider has had more experience against high-level competition.

Playing in the rugged ACC for the first three years of his career, he averaged 9.3 points per game in 79 outings for Virginia Tech.  That included 11.4 p.p.g. in 2016-17.  He has three 20-point games including one against Notre Dame in January of 2017, which came just four days after he put up 17 against Syracuse.

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"“He has more than enough ability to score the ball,” Beard said last week to the Avalanche-Journal. “… It’ll be sooner rather than later when we sitting up here (on the press conference podium) and he’s had a 20-point game. Right now, I just think he’s doing a great job of taking what the defense is gives him.”"

It is no coincidence that in what Beard said was his team’s best 20 minutes of the year, a 55-24 second half of dominance against Long Island, Clarke scored six points.  Though the biggest reason for Tech’s turnaround after trailing at halftime for the first time this season was an increase in defensive intensity, Clarks was an integral part of the Red Raiders offensive outburst.

Of course, it’s been easy to see how he’s contributed in other ways than putting the ball in the basket.  His 5.9 assists per game rank third in the Big 12 and he leads the Red Raiders with 7.8 rebounds per contest.

But what is unusual is that we’ve rarely seen a player who willingly passes up so many open shots that it appears he doesn’t want to score.  That’s particularly uncommon in the modern era of basketball when every player on the floor seems to play as if he believes he is the second coming of Steph Curry.

"“I would have to go back to my early coaching,” Clarke said to the A-J of when he knew he had a knack for dishing the basketball. “All my training, all my years and experience of playing basketball. Really good at seeing things, picturing what can come next.”"

Still, there will be times when this team, which leads the NCAA in assists (along with Dayton) at 22 per game, will need its only senior guard to be selfish.

That’s because the offense is relying heavily on freshmen.  Three of the team’s top six scorers are in their first go-round in Beard’s program as Jahmi’us Ramsey, Terrence Shannon Jr., and Kevin McCullar are combining to average 35.4 points per game, 19.4 of which are coming from Ramsey.

Relying so heavily on young players, no matter how talented they may be, means that at some point there will likely be some offensive slumps, similar to what we saw in Thursday’s game against Tennessee State when Tech scored just 27 points in the first half and Ramsey shot just 4-13 from the field for the game.

Clarke’s game does appear perfect for the Big 12, where defense rules the day and basketball is as physical as it is in any conference in the nation.  A career 3-point shooter of just 33.3%, he’s made only 18 shots from behind the arc in 84 career games.

But his ability to get into the lane and his upper-body strength allows him to finish in near the rim despite not possessing elite leaping ability.  Some might say he has an old man’s game, and that’s perfect for a team that is short on experience and age.

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This week, the Red Raiders are going to step up in competition as they head to Las Vegas to take on Iowa on Thursday and either Creighton or San Diego State on Friday.  Those games will be far more physical than any we’ve seen this team play this year and that could be when Clarke finally feels like he will have to put the ball in the basket for his team to win.