Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders pull off miraculous comeback against ISU

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - JANUARY 30: Guard Lamar Washington #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders shouts after drawing a charge during the second half of the college basketball game against the Iowa State Cyclones at United Supermarkets Arena on January 30, 2023 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - JANUARY 30: Guard Lamar Washington #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders shouts after drawing a charge during the second half of the college basketball game against the Iowa State Cyclones at United Supermarkets Arena on January 30, 2023 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Did that really happen?  A 23-point comeback victory?  Though we all saw it with our own eyes, it is still hard to wrap one’s mind around what we saw the Texas Tech basketball team pull off on Monday night.

Down 59-36 to No. 13 Iowa State with just 12:36 to play in the second half, somehow, the Red Raiders found a way to claw back and force overtime where they would complete the largest comeback in the history of the program.

Led by Kevin Obanor’s 24 points and 13 rebounds, the Red Raiders managed to rise from the dead and secure their first Big 12 win of the season in the most improbable of fashions.  Let’s take a look at just how this unforgettable rally came together.

Small Ball

Though no one could have known it at the time, the turning point of this game came when head coach Mark Adams made a shrewd tactical decision with 11:41 remaining as backup post player Robert Jennings checked out of the game.  Deciding to play small ball with the 6-foot-8 Obanor as Tech’s tallest player on the floor, Adams found a combination of players that was able to cover Iowa State’s bevy of offensive weapons while also stressing the Cyclone defense by spreading the floor.

At that point, Tech was trailing by 20 points.  From there, the Red Raiders would close regulation by outscoring the Cyclones 32-12.

For the game, Jennings would see just 13 minutes of action while starting center Daniel Batcho would play only 11.  Meanwhile, Obanor would log 42 huge minutes while guards De’Vion Harmon and Jaylon Tyson would play 36 and 35 respectively.  Also, reserve freshman guard Lamar Washington would be called upon for 26 minutes.

Also using D’Maurian Williams quite a bit down the stretch, the Red Raiders’ four-guard lineup started playing swarming defense forcing the vast majority of the Cyclones’ 17 turnovers during the comeback.  It was the first time this season that we’ve seen Adams lean into a small-ball lineup for an extended period and that move saved the day.  Here’s betting we see plenty more of that lineup moving forward.

Guarding Grill

For the game, ISU’s streaky shooter, Caleb Grill, was an assassin.  Making 8 of 12 shots from 3-point range, he ended his night with 24 points.

However, in the second half, Tech made a wise yet obvious decision…they decided to…ya know…actually guard him.  More specifically, Tech stopped trying to switch every screen set for Grill and had just one player (usually Harmon or Washington) shadow him all over the court thus limiting his touches.

After hitting 5 of 6 shots from deep in the first half, Grill was just 3-6 in the second half and OT.  Most importantly, he would miss all three of his shots in the OT period while also failing to score for the last 3:49 of regulation when his final made basket of the night gave ISU a 67-60 lead.

Every game it seems as if an opposing player is going to go nuts against Tech from 3-point range.  Monday, it was Grill.  But while he had a career game, he was held in check for almost the final nine minutes of action, a factor that allowed the Red Raiders to climb back into the game.

One point at a time

There was a point early in the second half when the Red Raiders could do nothing offensively except shoot free throws.  In fact, during an almost four-minute stretch, when ISU was cruising along with a lead that danced around 20 points, Tech would score 7 of their 9 points from the stripe.

At the time, that didn’t seem like it would do anything but make the home team’s final point total a bit less embarrassing.  However, that little stretch stopped some of the ISU momentum and kept the lead from swelling.  For the remainder of the game, Tech would continue to march to the line to the tune of 13 of 21 to close out the game.

In all, the Red Raiders would go 26-37 at the line to outscore the Cyclones by 14 points in that facet of the game.  For a team that often struggles to generate offense, getting to the line is essential and on Monday, Tech was the more aggressive team when it came to driving the ball to the goal and that resulted in a difference of 16 more free throws awarded to the Red Raiders.

No one but Grill

Any time a team has a player knock down 8 shots from beyond the arc in a game and still manages to lose, that’s an indication that the rest of the team likely did very little to help the cause.  That was the case for the Cyclones as the rest of the team outside of Grill would go just 1-15 from 3-point range.

A Change in the Paint

As Iowa State built a 39-22 halftime lead, they were simply dominant in the paint.  Owning the boards by a count of 20-13 at the intermission and having a nearly 20-point edge in points in the paint midway through the second half, ISU was bullying the Red Raiders into submission.

Remarkably though, when Tech went to its smaller lineup, the game in the paint shifted.  With Harmon constantly attacking the rim in the final ten minutes, Tech would finish the game even with ISU in paint points at 34.  What’s more, the Cyclones would wind up winning the battle on the glass by only two rebounds, 38-36.

With Batcho and Jennings on the bench and fellow big man Fardaws Aimaq in street clothes, Tech seemed destined to be owned down low.  Instead, Obanor’s gritty work in the second half and the team’s renewed approach to attacking the basket turned the entire feel of this game.

It was truly one of those games that would seem ridiculous if it were to be included in a movie script.  That’s how lifeless and dejected the Red Raiders appeared to be deep into the second half.

However, this team managed to muster up some truly impressive fortitude down the stretch to earn its first conference win.  Now, here’s hoping this miraculous comeback can spark the Red Raiders to a strong finish in the season’s final month and a half.