Texas Tech basketball: Country Roads lead to Red Raider win at WVU
Left for dead just ten days ago following a heartbreaking last-second loss to Oklahoma State dropped them to 1-10 in Big 12 play, the Texas Tech basketball team has risen from the grave with three straight Quad-1 wins to restore a glimmer of hope in the possibility of returning to the NCAA Tournament. Saturday, the Red Raiders stayed hot by managing to do something that this program has historically struggled to do, emerge from Morgantown, West Virginia victorious.
In a back-and-forth affair that featured 23 lead changes and 10 ties, it was the Red Raiders who made the winning plays down the stretch of a 78-72 triumph to move out of a last-place tie with Oklahoma and into a tie with the Mountaineers for 8th place in the league race at 4-10.
While that might not seem like much to brag about, given that for most of January the prevailing question about this season’s team was whether or not it would go winless in conference action for the first time ever, this three-game rally is an exciting sign of life from Mark Adam’s program.
Now, with four games remaining in the regular season, it is reasonable to envision the Red Raiders being able to finish with as many as 7 league wins (games at home against TCU and Oklahoma State plus a road tilt with Oklahoma seem very winnable, while the upcoming trip to face KU in Lawrence, Kansas does not). While that is a modest win total for this program given its recent run of success, it is a number that will at least warrant conversation about the Red Raiders’ resume on Selection Sunday. That we are even mentioning the possibility of being on the NCAA Tournament bubble is hard to believe given the way that Tech started the league schedule but, remarkably, that’s where we are.
For now, though, let’s enjoy Saturday’s win. Here are some quick thoughts on what transpired in Morgantown.
Jaylon Tyson continues to emerge
There was a time this year when it was fair to wonder if sophomore Jaylon Tyson was going to be a piece that this program could build around. But after a 27-point, 5-rebound effort on Saturday, it is becoming clear that he is not only a player that we should be excited about but also that he could be an emerging star in the Big 12.
Over his last 6 games, he’s averaged 15.5 points including five double-digit showings. That’s quite the turnaround from the first nine conference games when he put up a modest 8.8 points per game and had only three double-digit performances.
It’s no coincidence that Tech’s recent run of strong play has coincided with Tyson’s upswing in production. His run of strong offensive play began when Tech took down Iowa State for its first Big 12 win on January 30 and since then he’s helped his team to a 4-2 record. In the process, he’s showing that he could be a player that this program builds around for years to come.
Pop returns in a big way
Speaking of possible program building blocks, freshman guard Pop Isaacs returned from a 6-game absence against the Mountaineers and he showed no signs of rust. Scoring 15 points on 6-10 shooting while knocking down 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range, he gave Tech over 29 quality minutes.
Isaacs will likely return to the starting five next time out, an honor he had earned in all 19 of the games he appeared in prior to twisting his ankle against the Mountaineers in Lubbock on January 25. What’s more, it appears that Isaac’s return will limit the minutes available to freshman Lamar Washington and transfer Kerwin Walton.
Despite starting, Walton played fewer than 10 minutes Saturday and didn’t attempt a field goal. Meanwhile, Washington saw only 8:48 only the floor, his most limited action in Tech’s last six games.
Pop gives Tech another offensive weapon, something that is desperately needed given this team’s struggles to score at the time. During his absence, players like Tyson and De’Vion Harmon (21.6 p.p.g. in Tech’s last six games) found their offensive identity and carried the Red Raiders. Now, with Isaacs back and with senior Kevin Obanor still going strong, there are four Red Raiders capable of putting up 20 points on any given night. That’s a huge difference for this team.
Daws does it again
Still far from being in top shape thanks to the foot injury that has cost him most of the season, center Fardaws Aimaq turned in his second-straight meaningful performance with 14 points and 12 boards on Saturday. That came after he posted 12 points and 8 rebounds against Texas on Monday.
While Aimaq struggled from the floor making only 2 of his 12 shots, he was money at the line making all 10 of his free throws. Four of those free throws came in the final 35 seconds as Tech was nursing a one-score lead while both of his field goals came in the game’s closing 3:32.
Remember that down the stretch against Texas, Aimaq made several key plays both as a scorer and as a facilitator with three crucial assists. On Saturday, he scored eight points and hauled in three rebounds in the last four minutes to help his team pull out the type of game that seemed to constantly slip through Tech’s hands earlier in the year. While he is not ready to dominate a game just yet given that he’s still working back from his foot injury, he is already proving to be an impactful and winning piece for the Red Raiders.
Stevenson falters in the clutch
Matching Tyson’s 27 points was WVU’s Erik Stevenson. However, the mouthy Mountaineer guard faltered when it mattered most, a turn that was especially satisfying for Tech fans.
In the final five minutes of the game, he was 0-5 from the field and 0-4 from the 3-point arc. As a result, his game was the opposite of Tyson’s who recorded his 27 points on 11-15 shooting. Stevenson was far less efficient going 9-21 overall and 6-14 from deep.
After the game, Stevenson referred to Tech as “…arguably the worst team in the league.” but thanks to his late disappearing act, his team is now also in that conversation as the Mountaineers are 15-12 overall and 4-10 in league play, just like the Red Raiders. But whereas WVU is headed in the wrong direction after 3-straight losses, Tech is starting to find its way with three-straight wins. As a result, it is fair to suggest that Tech’s NCAA Tournament hopes are more legitimate than WVU’s.