Wednesday in Lubbock, the Air Raiders (a team comprised of former Texas Tech basketball players) took their first step toward winning $1 million by easily dispatching of Purple Hearts in the first round of The Basketball Tournament. In what was a rousing success for the Hub City, which produced a large crowd in the city’s first opportunity to be a host site for the now ten-year-old event, a balanced scoring effort from a host of all-time program greats helped pave the way to the second round in an 83-64 win.
With four players scoring in double digits, the Air Raiders never trailed in the game, and despite some moments of sloppy play were never threatened. Leading the way was point guard John Roberson who had 15 points on 5-10 shooting. The Texas Tech all-time leader in assists whose career in Lubbock spanned from 2007-2011 also handed out five assists and came up with a steal while managing not to turn the ball over in 22:24 of action.
Also going 5-10 from the floor was center Tariq Owens who contributed 13 points to the winning effort. Including making the two free throws at the end of the game to get Tech to the 83 points needed to win in the unusual Elam Ending format that sets a target score for teams to reach in order to prevail, Owens was also a factor on the defensive end of the floor with four blocks and nine rebounds to the surprise of no one who remembers the fantastic season he spent as a Red Raider in 2018-19 when he set the program single-season record for blocks while helping Tech reach the National Title Game.
His teammate from that season, Matt Mooney also played well with 11 points, eight assists, and three steals. The most memorable play of the night was one of those assists which went to Owens on a fast-break alley-oop in the first half that brought the home crowd to their feet and brought back memories of the magical season that pair spent as graduate transfers with the Red Raiders.
Zach Smith was the only starter who didn’t end up in double digits in points finishing with seven in 20:39 of action. However, he did contribute four rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.
Off the bench, Toddrick Gotcher led the relief corps with nine points and a pair of rebounds. Playing in Lubbock for the first time since his Tech career ended in 2016, he was 3-7 from the floor with all three of his makes coming as part of his six attempts from behind the arc.
As a team, the Air Raiders managed to be surprisingly efficient from 3-point range going 14-36 (38%). While that number isn’t going to turn a ton of heads, it is impressive given how many of the players had arrived in Lubbock only a day or two prior to the game and given the fact that the team had been able to practice only a couple of times together before tipoff.
For instance, guard Davide Moretti arrived from Italy only on Tuesday. Arguably the best 3-point shooter in Tech history, Moretti looked a bit weary and jet-lagged going 0-2 from the field and scoring only two points in 13:47 on the floor.
Also impressive for the Air Raiders was the fact that they gave the ball away only six times, something that was encouraging to see given how little time this team had spent as a unit. The same can’t be said for Purple Hearts who lost the ball 17 times on the night.
The Air Raiders now take on The Enchantment, a team consisting mostly of players who are products of New Mexico and New Mexico State, on Friday at United Supermarkets Arena. That game will tip at 8 CST.