Texas Tech basketball: Tourney dream stays alive thanks to tough win at OU
Tuesday in Norman, Oklahoma, in front of a few thousand disinterested and lethargic Sooner fans, the Texas Tech basketball team was able to grind out a 74-63 win to keep the improbable dream of an NCAA Tournament birth alive. That’s now four wins in a row for the Red Raiders who move to 5-10 in Big 12 play and 16-12 overall.
It was a sloppy game that at times felt more like an adult church-league weeknight game with both teams content to chuck up bricks from beyond the 3-point line if they weren’t throwing the ball away before that. However, on Selection Sunday, it doesn’t matter how pretty a game was, it only matters that it landed in your team’s win column and this game was yet another important Quad-1 win for the good guys. Here are some thoughts on what took place in the latest Red Raider win.
Big Maple comes up big again
Known affectionately as “Big Maple”, Canadian native Fardaws Aimaq continued to be one of this team’s most important players on Tuesday night with a game-high 19 points in addition to 10 rebounds. It was the third-straight double-digit scoring game for the 7-footer who has scored at least 12 points in 5 of his 7 games played this year.
Aimaq is truly finding his place on this team and playing with confidence. He attempted a game-high 15 shots making 9 of them. What’s more, he had two more critical assists, both of which came late in the second half as his team was nursing a small lead.
The big man is proving to be the perfect player to utilize in the pick-and-roll with either Jaylon Tyson, Pop Isaacs, or De’Vion Harmon. When Aimaq gets the ball in the high post, he’s just as effective as a passer as he is a scorer and that’s opening up Tech’s half-court offense. Down the stretch, Tech went almost exclusively to the pick-and-roll with Aimaq as the screener and the results were tremendous.
It’s not a stretch to say that this team’s fortunes began to turn when Aimaq returned to action on February 11 against Kansas State. Since then, Tech has gone 4-0 and in three of those contests, Aimaq has been a huge reason for his team’s success.
Tech was far more efficient from beyond the arc
This season, OU has attempted the second-fewest 3-pointers in the league and made the third-fewest. Thus, the Red Raiders were content to let the Sooners try to win this game from beyond the 3-point arc and the home team played right into Tech’s hands.
Attempting a whopping 33 shots from deep, the Sooners made only 9 (27.3%). In fact, over 55% of OU’s total field goal attempts were 3-pointers. That included a 1-7 effort from 25.9% 3-point shooter Joe Bamislle, who Tech was more than happy to leave open for deep jumpers. Most important though was the fact that 42.7% 3-point shooter, Grant Sherfield was just 3-11 from downtown.
Meanwhile, Tech was 7-12 from deep. That was a far cry from the 2-18 the Red Raiders shot from long distance when Oklahoma won in Lubbock earlier in the year, 68-63 in overtime. So while the Red Raiders didn’t outscore the Sooners from 3-point range on Tuesday, they were much more efficient, a huge reason why Tech was able to shoot a blistering 61.7% from the floor while OU shot just 35.6%.
OU simply didn’t care about rebounding
In this game, the Sooners made a distinct strategic decision by putting no effort into attempting to crash the offensive glass so that they could get all five of their players back to prevent the Red Raiders from getting easy baskets in transition. As a result, Tech owned the glass by the count of 38-22.
The home team was able to gather only 7 offensive rebounds leading to just 10 second-chance points. That’s been an area where Tech has been vulnerable on many occasions this year so it seemed strange that OU would put no effort into trying to exploit that weakness. As a result, Tech controlled the rebounding battle and that proved to be an important edge in this tight game.
Tech survives a high-turnover game
Another area of struggle for the Red Raiders this season has been turning the ball over. And in the first half, OU was able to force Tech into 13 giveaways, a huge reason why the Sooners trailed only 33-31 at the break.
However, in the second half, the Red Raiders gave the ball away only three times. That was perhaps the biggest reason that the game ultimately tilted Tech’s way.
Overall, OU hoisted 12 more shots than Tech due to the 16-8 turnover margin in the game. However, the Sooners couldn’t capitalize as they would only win the points off of turnovers battle 12-11. In that sense, the Red Raiders dodged a huge bullet on Tuesday night.
A pathetic home environment
Sure, the Sooners are dwelling in the Big 12 cellar this season but regardless, the lack of any home-court advantage at the Lloyd Noble Center was impossible to ignore. According to ESPN.com, the official attendance was just 5,203, which is only 45% of the arena’s capacity. However, there’s no way that the actual crowd that showed up was anywhere close to that large.
As a result, there was no OU run that put Tech in a bind and there was little in the way of a hostile atmosphere there to challenge the Red Raiders. Seeing a crowd that pathetic should remind Tech fans to be thankful for the support that the Lubbock faithful have continued to give this program even during this season’s struggles.
The simple reality is that, while basketball is arguably the biggest game in town in Lubbock, it is not even the second or third biggest attraction to OU fans who probably care more about softball and gymnastics than they do basketball. Having been to a Tech game in Norman in previous years, I was not shocked to see an empty barn on Tuesday night. However, it was still laughable to see the lack of interest in and support for a program with five Final Four banners hanging in the rafters.