Texas Tech basketball: Kevin McCullar Jr. has best day as Red Raider

In the Texas Tech basketball team’s 68-58 win over UTRGV, redshirt freshman Kevin McCullar Jr. had his best day as a Red Raider thus far.

One question about the 2019-20 Texas Tech basketball team is whether or not the youth on the roster will mature in time for this year’s team to make another deep run in March.  On Saturday, we saw some positive strides in that regard from redshirt freshman Kevin McCullar Jr.

The San Antonio product has had an interesting journey to this point.  Don’t forget that he made the unusual decision to skip the final year of his high school career to enroll at Tech early.

But most of his first semester on campus was spent recovering from a lower-body injury that prevented him from being as active in the weight room and on the practice floor as he had intended on being when he arrived in January.  And for much of this year, he’s looked rather unsteady, especially on offense.

However, his showing on Saturday against UTRGV was a step in the right direction.  In fact, it was his best showing thus far as a collegiate.

In a game that saw his team need a significant shot of energy from the bench, the 6-foot-6 guard scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds, swiped two steals and blocked a shot in 16 minutes off the bench.  And all of those plays were big in a game that was tied midway through the second half.

At times this year, McCullar has been downright awful when trying to score.  His shot is not yet an asset and he seems to still be trying to find his place in the offense, which has resulted in some moments of timidity on his part.

But Saturday, McCullar was 3-4 from the field and 4-5 from the free-throw line.  That was something that had to make Chris Beard happy.

“He’s a very talented player, he’s overcome a lot of adversity,” Beard said.  “He hasn’t been 100% cleared thought the year and now he has. He has to learn to play with his strength. It’s impressive what he’s doing with no offseason.”

It was his second 10-point game of the year with his other coming on November 24th against Long Island.  But those two games were a bit different in that on Saturday, McCullar came through when the game was in the balance and he was also much more efficient.

Against the LIU Sharks, it took McCullar seven shots to get to 10 points as he went 4-7 from the floor.  However, one positive from that game was the fact that he went 2-3 from 3-point range, the only game this year in which he’s hit a shot from deep.

But Saturday, he was more integral to his team’s success than he was in the 30-point win over Long Island.  That’s because he was able to give his team key plays off the bench in a game that looked like it might be headed towards being an upset.

At the 13:36 mark of the second half, he converted a layup off a nice pass from Chris Clarke to give Tech a 37-34 lead.  A minute later, he made two free-throws to extend that lead to five points.

Those two foul shots came after the best play he made on the afternoon.  With UTRGV trying to inbound the ball from under the basket, McCullar stole the inbounds pass by going up high at the top of the key.

That play was an example of what makes the freshman such an intriguing player.  Displaying a keen understanding of the game and possessing an unusually long reach, McCullar has the look of a future lock-down defender.

But in order for him to be that for the Red Raiders, he has to prove to be more trustworthy of an offensive player.  For the year, he’s averaging 1.3 turnovers per game, which is far too much for a player who is seeing only 14.6 minutes per game.

On Saturday though, he had only one turnover as he was more decisive with the ball.  It was the type of showing that gives us reason to believe that he is on the cusp of becoming a player who can help this year’s team become deeper and more offensively balanced when Beard goes to the bench.