Texas Tech basketball makes plays late to fight off Southern Miss

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard reacts during the second half of their game against the Louisville Cardinals at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 10: Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Chris Beard reacts during the second half of their game against the Louisville Cardinals at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

Monday night in Lubbock, the Texas Tech basketball team was far from being in top form in a sloppy 71-65 win over Southern Mississippi.

It was often ugly.  It was never pretty.  But the Texas Tech basketball team navigated the classic trap game Monday night in a 71-65 win over a 3-8 Southern Mississippi team that held the lead for most of the night.

Proving that he was aware of the challenge his team would face in its first game since knocking off No. 1 Louisville last week, head coach Chris Beard had mouse traps placed throughout the lockerroom to hammer home the point that this was a dangerous game for his Red Raiders.  But for most of the night, it seemed as if his warning might have fallen on deaf ears.

Trailing 32-25 at the half, the Red Raiders did not take the lead for good until a Kyler Edwards layup put his team on top 52-51 with 8:57 remaining.  But the game remained up for grabs in the final minute when Davide Moretti drained a 3-pointer from the corner to stake his team to a 67-60 lead with 59 seconds to play.

It was another poor shooting night for the junior.  Going 4-17 from the field and just 3-11 from behind the arc, Moretti had to struggle for his 17 points, six of which came at the free-throw line.

Over his last four games, Tech’s best 3-point shooter had made just 9-35 (25.7%) attempts from deep.  That’s quite a surprise for a player who led the Big 12 in that regard last year by shooting 45.9%.

But to his credit, he’s found other ways to score as the team’s leading returning scorer has averaged 17 points per game during that stretch.  Still, Red Raider fans are ready for his deadly touch from deep to return.

As a team, the Red Raiders were just 5-22 from behind the arc.  Other than the three makes by Moretti, the only long-range shots that went down were 3s from Avery Benson and Kyler Edwards in the first half.

Speaking of Benson, he came back down to earth a bit after his memorable 10-point, 4-rebound, 2-block showing against Louisville in New York last week.  The sophomore walk-on had just three points and a rebound in 14 minutes off the bench.

In fact, the bench as a whole was able to muster just four points.  Of the five players Beard brought off the bench, Kevin McCullar was the only one other than Benson to score as he hit a second-half free throw.

Fortunately, freshman Terrence Shannon Jr. had a big night with 18 points, the second time in the last three games he’s led his team in scoring.  He had a career-high 24 points in Tech’s OT loss at Depaul in his hometown of Chicago.

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Meanwhile, grad transfer Chris Clarke had 14 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists to once again be his team’s most important player.  Still, as a team Tech managed to shoot just 37.5% on the night.

But while Tech’s offense sputtered for most of the night, two Southern Miss players almost carried their team to the upset.  Junior LaDavius Draine had 21 points and his sophomore backcourt partner Gabe Watson added 20 to account for 63% of their team’s offense.

Early on, it was Watson who helped his team get off to a solid start.  Hitting a number of contested step-back jumpers in the first half, he had 14 points on 6-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes of action.  And when he beat the first-half buzzer with a 3, many inside United Supermarkets Arena were starting to realize that the No. 24 Red Raiders were in for a fight.

Playing with more energy and intensity after the intermission, Tech pulled even at 40-40 by the 14:29 mark but could not deliver one of the patented huge runs that have become so common during the program’s 52-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.  This was a win that the Red Raiders had to grind out one possession at a time.

It was a sloppy game for Beard as he saw his team have two more turnovers (12) than assists (10), a stat in which the Red Raiders led the Big 12 entering play on Monday.  At times, the home team looked like it was trying to make the extra pass when it wasn’t needed and at other times, the turnovers came as a result of carelessness and lethargy on the part of a team that had been hearing the nation sing its praises for the better part of the last week.

Fortunately, one area of the game that remained true for the Red Raiders was the free-throw line.  Monday, Tech shot 24-27 from the stripe to hold a 16-point edge over the Golden Eagles.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard to take down an opponent missing a number of starters and coming in having lost five of six games.

But such is life with a team as young as this year’s Red Raiders.  Hopefully, they got their poor play out of their system as there are only two games remaining before Big 12 play.  Tech returns to the court Saturday afternoon against UT Rio Grande Valley and given the way his team played on Monday night, there’s no telling what prop Beard will use in the locker room this week to drive home the point that this was not his team’s best effort.