Texas Tech basketball: Thoughts on Red Raiders’ loss to Gonzaga

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 18: Adonis Arms #25 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives to the basket while being defended by Julian Strawther #0 of the Gonzaga University Bulldogs during the first half of the Jerry Colangelo Classic at Footprint Center on December 18, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 18: Adonis Arms #25 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives to the basket while being defended by Julian Strawther #0 of the Gonzaga University Bulldogs during the first half of the Jerry Colangelo Classic at Footprint Center on December 18, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Without leading scorer T.J. Shannon, the Texas Tech basketball team was never going to beat No. 5 Gonzaga Saturday in Phoenix.  Even at full strength, that would have been a monumental task for Mark Adams’ team but without its best NBA prospect in the fray, there simply wasn’t enough firepower on the Red Raider roster to topple a team as talented as the Bulldogs.

Still, there was a moment when the scrappy underdogs put some fear into the Zags.  With 14:21 to play in the second half, Clarence Nadolny would convert a layup to cut what had once been a 10-point Gonzaga lead down to just two points at 42-40.  At that point, Tech was squarely in the game after being down double-figures for much of the day.

However, on their next possession, one that was extended by a pair of offensive rebounds, Gonzaga would drill a 3-pointer.  Then, after Tech’s Kevin Obanor missed a jumper, the Zags would drain another shot from behind the arc to gain back much of their breathing room.

This sequence in the game illustrated the difference between the two teams.  While it took Tech three minutes of game time to erase most of the Bulldogs’ 10-point lead, it took Gonzaga only two possessions to reassert their dominance and by the 12:06 mark of the second half, the lead had already ballooned back up to 11 points.  And without Shannon to help carry Tech’s offensive burden, there was little chance that the Red Raiders were ever going to keep up with a team of the caliber of Gonzaga.

So while the Red Raiders put up a valiant effort in the 69-54 defeat, the continuation of some troubling trends has given Red Raider fans reason for concern as Big 12 play is set to begin in just under two weeks. So let’s take a look at where the Red Raiders are struggling as we deal with the aftermath of the season’s second loss.

Transfers not living up to the hype

What made so many Texas Tech basketball fans hopeful about this season was the caliber of the transfers that Tech added over the offseason.  However, those players are not living up to their reputations, especially against quality opponents, and that’s hurting this team in a major way.

The three most high-profile transfers that Adams brought into the fold this past offseason, Bryson Williams, Davion Warren, and Kevin Obanor combined to give Tech just 19 points on 8-25 shooting between them.  With Shannon out, Tech needed more from that trio.

Williams had another forgettable showing marking the third-straight poor effort of his season against major conference opponents, he had just five points and five rebounds.  That means that against Providence, Tennessee, and Gonzaga, he managed to average only 5.3 points per game.

Warren also scored just five points on Saturday.  And against Providence, Tennessee, and Gonzaga, he averaged only 7.6 points.  While that’s better than what Williams gave Tech, that’s not enough from a player who scored over 20 points per game last season.

Meanwhile, Obanor was decent with nine points against the Zags.  But in this season’s three non-con games against major opponents, he put up only a pedestrian 10.3 points per game.  While that is acceptable, what isn’t is the fact that Obanor shot just 5-17 from 3-point range in those three games.  And for a team as challenged from 3-point range as Tech is, Obanor has to be a better long-range weapon.

Another transfer, Adonis Arms, was solid with 14 points to tie for the team lead as he got the start in place of Shannon.  But with Tech’s best player sidelined, Williams, Warren, and Obanor needed to take up the slack and they failed to do so.  Now, Tech fans are wondering if these transfers will be able to step it up in Big 12 play.

3-point defense continues to struggle

Though there’s no reason to complain about holding the Zags to just 69 points, one aspect of Tech’s defensive performance deserves some inspection; 3-point defense.

Overall, the Bulldogs were able to go 13-31 from long distance for the game in what was the main reason they were victorious.  And that’s something that this Red Raider squad has struggled with at times.

Sure, Tech is only allowing opponents to shoot 32.4% from 3-point range this year, but that is good for just 8th in the Big 12.  And that percentage might be a bit misleading.

Rember that Tennessee was a woeful 6-40 against the Red Raiders in a game that is the saving grace for Tech’s overall 3-point defense numbers.  But outside of that anomalous showing by the Vols, Tech is allowing teams to shoot 35.6%, which would be by far the worst mark in the Big 12.

Prior to Saturday, Tech had allowed North Florida to shoot 44% from deep, allowed Grambling to shoot 47.4%, and allowed Incarnate Word to shoot 52.6%.  Now, after the way the Zags lit Tech up from 3-point range, there’s even more reason to be concerned about the Red Raiders’ ability to defend the 3.

The lack of a true point guard

Another reason to think that Tech might be struggling on offense against good teams is the Red Raiders’ lack of a true point guard.  That’s something that has been an issue for several seasons now and it’s proving to be especially problematic this year.

Kecin McCullar Jr. is being asked to play that role most of the time this season.  But while he’s scoring a career-high 14.3 points per game, he’s averaging a career-worst two turnovers per game while handing out only 2.9 assists per contest.

McCullar is a jack of all trades on the court but being a creator and distributor is not his greatest asset.  The problem is that he’s the best option this team has right now with Mylik Wilson and his Big 12 leading 3.71 assist to turnover ratio sidelined with a knee injury.  And even when Wilson is on the court, he isn’t the type of player who can take over games against top-notch opponents.

Against Providence, Tennessee, and Gonzaga, Tech has averaged just 60 points per game and much of that can be attributed to the lack of a true point guard.  Will that impact the Red Raiders negatively when Big 12 play begins on January 1?  Here’s hoping not.