Texas Tech basketball: Tough loss at KU proves Red Raiders are Final Four contenders

LAWRENCE, KANSAS - JANUARY 24: Bryson Williams #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives drives against Dajuan Harris Jr. #3 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse on January 24, 2022 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KANSAS - JANUARY 24: Bryson Williams #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders drives drives against Dajuan Harris Jr. #3 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse on January 24, 2022 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

There’s nothing more useless in the world of sports than a moral victory.  In the end, a loss, no matter how hard-fought it may have been, still counts as a mark in the wrong column.  But sometimes, as was the case for the Texas Tech basketball team on Monday night, a loss can reveal as much about a team as a win does.

Ultimately, the 94-91 double-overtime loss at No. 5 Kansas will sting for a while given that Tech held a five-point lead in the first overtime.  In fact, Tech came within one possession of securing the rarest of occurrences in the Big 12, a win at Allen Fieldhouse.

But still, in defeat, the Red Raiders proved to the nation that they are a serious contender to reach the Final Four.  After all, there are no true road games in the NCAA Tournament.  So let’s take a look at what transpired on Monday and why this game established the Red Raiders as one of the elite teams in the nation and a true Final Four contender.

Shannon and McCullar give Tech next to nothing

Had we known prior to this game that T.J. Shannon and Kevin McCullar Jr. would combine for just seven points and five rebounds, we all would have assumed that Tech would have been blown out.  But that wasn’t the case and the fact that Tech took KU down to the wire without much help from these two massively important pieces of the puzzle proves just how good the Red Raiders are.

Shannon was out of sorts all night long.  Scoring a mere five points, he was 1-10 from the field and 0-5 from 3-point range.  But to his credit, he did make two clutch free throws to tie the game at 75 with just 13 seconds to play in regulation and ultimately send the game to OT.

Meanwhile, McCullar had just as rough of an evening.  Shooting 1-11 from the floor and 0-4 from beyond the arc, he had only two points on the night.  What was most surprising is that McCullar didn’t get to the line once over the course of 44 minutes played and much of that had to do with the uneven way the game was called as on numerous occasions, McCullar was put on the deck while trying to drive the ball to the basket only to have the officials swallow their whistles.

For the season, the duo of Shannon and McCullar is averaging a combined 23 points per game.  So getting less than a third of that productivity from them against the No. 5 team in the nation was less than ideal.  But still, Tech was able to go toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks despite Shannon and McCullar’s struggles and that proves that the Red Raiders can beat any team in the nation, even when their best players struggle.

Williams becomes Tech’s go-to guy

All year, we’ve wondered who would emerge as this team’s go-to option when the game is on the line.  Monday seemed to provide that answer in the form of a heroic performance from forward Bryson Williams.

Scoring 33 points, Williams almost single-handedly brought Tech back from a 12-point second-half deficit and nearly carried Tech to victory in overtime.  And it was an incredibly efficient performance as he was 14-19 from the floor and 4-4 from 3-point range.

This was the eighth game in a row in which the UTEP transfer has scored in double figures and what’s interesting is that it is the second time in Big 12 play that Tech has leaned heavily on Williams to carry the team when the rest of the squad was struggling.  The same was true against Kansas State on January 15 when Tech repeatedly went to Williams for offense and he responded by scoring 20 of his team’s 51 points for the game.

On Monday, Williams was the focal point of Tech’s offense in the second half as Tech isolated him in the post and let him go to work.  While it was stubborn of KU head coach Bill Self to not send extra defenders towards Williams until late in the second OT, the way that Williams was able to dominate against the No. 5 team in the nation is proof that he can carry the Red Raiders.

In crunch time, especially in March, any team needs to know who to turn to when games are tight and everything is on the line.  Bryson Williams is emerging as that player for the Red Raiders and having that type of performer on the roster makes the Red Raiders a threat to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

It took a transcendent performance to beat Tech

Even on a night when Tech did not play its best game and players like McCullar, Shannon, and Adonis Arms did not play up to their full potential, it took a career night from one of the best players in the game to take down the Red Raiders.

KU’s guard Ochai Agbaji had the game of his life as he scored 37 points on 13-23 shooting.  That included going 7-12 from 3-point range.  When a player has that type of performance, most usually, his team is going to blow out its opponent, especially when his team is the No. 5 team in the nation.

But Tech hung tough all night and was almost able to overcome Agbaji’s heroics.  That proves just how tough of an out the Red Raiders will be in March.

There will be times in the NCAA Tournament when an opponent’s best player does his best Superman impression and tries to single-handedly will his team to victory as Agbaji did on Monday.  And when that happens, you have to simply tip your cap to the player.

But the fact that it took one of the all-time great individual performances in KU history to take down Tech on a night when the Red Raiders didn’t play up to their full potential is telling.  For the remainder of the year, it’s unlikely that we will see another opponent do to the Red Raiders what Agbaji did on Monday night and even if one does, Tech has proven that it can hang in there and have a shot to win.  Thus, it is not crazy to believe that this Red Raider squad can withstand the rigors of March and reach the Final Four.