Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders should bench this key player ASAP

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders talks to his players during a stop in play in the 2019 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 28, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Hawkeyes defeated the Red Raiders 72-61. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach Chris Beard of the Texas Tech Red Raiders talks to his players during a stop in play in the 2019 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 28, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Hawkeyes defeated the Red Raiders 72-61. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Though most Texas Tech basketball fans are wanting forward T.J. Holyfield benched because of his recent struggles, the player that needs to return to the bench ASAP is Chris Clarke but not because he’s playing poorly.

There’s no question that the Texas Tech basketball team is searching for answers during its three-game losing streak.  And with No. 1 Louisville next on the schedule, the Red Raiders face a monumental task if they want to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.

Naturally, frustrated fans have begun to take notice of the recent struggles of grad transfer forward T.J. Holyfield.  Indeed, the 6-foot-8 senior has disappointed in recent weeks including Wednesday night when he was held scoreless against DePaul.

Though he’s averaging 10.1 points per game this year, Holyfield has been a non-factor as the competition has risen.  In the last two games against Big East teams, he was held to a combined two points and he has just one double-digit game in his last five outings.

But the problem is that Holyfield can’t be sent to the bench unless Chris Beard wants to shuck convention and start a five-guard lineup or start one from a pair of true freshmen in Russell Tchewa or Andre Savrasov, neither of which look ready for such a role.  (To read more about the Holyfield conundrum, check out this piece from last week.)

Rather, the player that needs to be sent to the bench as soon as possible is Tech’s other grad transfer, Chris Clarke.

It isn’t because Clarke is playing poorly, though he was a disappointing no-show against DePaul, it is that this team needs his punch off the bench.

That’s where the Virginia Tech transfer started the season until freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey, Tech’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, went down in the second half of the loss to Iowa on Thanksgiving night.  Thus, with the highest-rated high school player to ever play for the Red Raiders missing the last two games, Clarke has been injected into the starting five.

The problem is that without Clarke, Beard’sreserves are ill-equipped to give the Red Raiders any scoring.  But does that matter?  Absolutely.

Some may believe that it doesn’t matter whether or not 100% of a team’s points come from the starters but that’s not how the game of basketball works.  For a team to be able to win games against major conference opponents, the bench has to produce well enough to prevent the offense from bogging down for long stretches of the game.

That was a luxury Beard had last year when he had three players in Brandone Francis, Kyler Edwards, and DeShawn Corprew who all averaged over five points per game and who were all capable 3-point shooters (Edwards and Corprew each shot over 40%) to bring off the bench.

But with Clarke and his six points per game in the starting lineup for the past two games, Tech’s offense has gone through some lengthy droughts.  In the first half of the DePaul game, the Red Raiders endured a 6:41 scoreless drought in the opening twenty minutes and in the first half against Creighton, there was a stretch of 5:39 in which Tech didn’t score allowing Bluejays opened up a 10-point lead.

Keep in mind that both of those droughts came at a time in the game when the bench often factors into the proceedings rather significantly.  After the starters open the game, the middle of the first half is when teams often separate from their opponents as the disparity in the quality of the two benches manifests itself on the scoreboard.

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It was also during that part of the game that Holyfield had to head to the bench in both contests because of early foul trouble leaving the Red Raiders vulnerable on the scoreboard and the backboards.  Simply put, this team has to have Clarke to bring off its bench because his all-around game, including scoring, rebounding, and creating opportunities for others is needed when the starters need a breather.

Even if Jahmi’us Ramsey can’t play against Louisville, Beard should consider starting Kevin McCullar Jr. just so that he can have Clarke’s well-rounded game (he leads the team in rebounds at 8.4 and rebounds at 5.9) to help prevent his team from going into another early-game wasteland.

With Clarke in the starting five, Tech’s bench production has dropped from 15.3 points per game to just 11.  While that might not seem like much, consider how much of a difference it would have made in the last two games to have an extra four points during either of those long first-half droughts.

Of all the options Beard has had on the bench in the last two games (Avery Benson, McCullar, Clarence Nadolny, Russell Tchewa, and Andrei Savrasov) none are averaging more than McCullar’s 4.3 points per game.  What’s more, of that group, Benson is the only non-freshman and of course, he is a walk-on who can provide tons of energy, defense, and rebounding but any offense he musters has to be considered a bonus.

The experience Clarke brings is yet another reason he needs to be this team’s sixth-man.  He is a calming influence on a team playing six freshmen and when Beard has to turn to his bench, it has to be considered a plus to have such a grizzled veteran as Clarke to pilot lineups that are heavily dependant on first-year players.

McCullar is athletic and long enough at 6-foot-5 to be a nice defensive option in the starting lineup and perhaps playing with the starters would allow him to play more at ease knowing that he doesn’t need to do as much offensively.  What’s more, Beard can keep Clarke as his ace in the hole to play when the game turns into the chess match that is using the bench.

Additionally, if Holyfield finds himself in foul trouble early in games, Clarke can come in and help give the Red Raiders some key minutes defensively at the forward spot where he is rather adept despite being only 6-foot-6 and not being an explosive leaper.

Ramsey remains day-to-day according to Beard and there is a chance that he could return on Tuesday in New York against the No. 1 team in the nation.  But even if he remains sidelined, it would make sense for Beard to try something different and bring Clarke off the bench because that’s an area where the Red Raiders have been missing some punch in the last two games.