Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders take down No. 15 Aggies in exhibition

Texas Tech's guard Pop Isaacs (2) gestures after scoring a 3-pointer against West Virginia during the first round of the Big 12 basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Texas Tech's guard Pop Isaacs (2) gestures after scoring a 3-pointer against West Virginia during the first round of the Big 12 basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. /

Sunday afternoon in Denton, Texas on the campus of North Texas University where Grant McCasland spent the past six seasons as head coach of the Mean Green, the new Texas Tech basketball head coach made a bit of a statement in guiding his team to an 89-84 win over No. 15 Texas A&M in an exhibition game.

Because the game was an exhibition, it was not televised so official statistics were all we can go off of unless you were in the house.  Unlike most college basketball scrimmages, this game was open to the public in order to help raise money for the Maui, Hawaii fire relief efforts.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend so everything that is covered here comes from those who were on hand and from the box score.  Still, there are some takeaways that are worth noting.

Pop Isaacs has a monster showing for Texas Tech

It isn’t a stretch to suggest that sophomore guard, Pop Isaacs, will be Tech’s best offensive weapon this year.  He is the team’s leading returning scorer after putting up 11.5 points per game as a true freshman and he already has a fearless mentality that all clutch scorers seem to possess.

In this game, Isaacs was on fire from 3-point range helping him end the day with 30 points.  That’s wonderful news to Red Raider fans who may have been worried about this team’s ability to put up enough points to win in the Big 12.

Last season, Isaacs’ top-scoring output was 24 points against Nichols.  In Big 12 play, he topped out at 23 points against Texas in Austin.  While putting up 30 on the Aggies in an exhibition is not going to count toward his career totals, it is a sign that he knows what his role on this team is, and that’s to score in bunches.  Look for a big season from Isaacs, one of the most under-the-radar budding stars in the Big 12.

Darrion Williams gets the start for Texas Tech

Assuming that McCasland played this game similar to how he would a regular-season contest, it is telling that he inserted Nevada transfer Darrion Williams into the starting five.  While the other four starters, Isaacs, West Virginia transfer guard Joe Toussaint, Arizona State transfer forward Devan Cambridge, and Arizona State transfer center Warren Washington, were logical starters, going with Williams over Grand Canyon transfer Chance McMillan is an interesting move.

Williams is a 6-foot-6 sophomore who was the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2022-23.  He averaged 7.7 points and 7.3 rebounds last season for the Wolfpack and that versatility could be one reason why he is in line for starting minutes.  However, he had only six points and two boards in 18 minutes before fouling out.

Having three inches over McMillan could be a key for Williams.  With Toussaint and Isaacs both being just 6-feet-tall, McCasland likely wants to have more size on the wings, and with Williams and Cambridge, he’ll have a pair of 6-foot-6 players in the mix there.

McMillan was a 40% 3-point shooter last season and his scoring touch might be more beneficial off of the bench as a replacement for Isaacs.  Look for him to play a significant role, as will Williams as these two transfers from mid-major programs that reached the 2023 NCAA Tournament will be important components of Tech’s winning formula.

Texas Tech wins despite a quiet day from its big man

When Washington is not on the floor, Tech is a very small team.  Still, the Red Raiders were able to come out on top against a big A&M team on a day when the Tech big man fouled out and had no points in 22 minutes.

Washington did manage seven boards and a pair of assists but for the most part, he was not able to be as impactful as McCasland needs him to be.  When Washington was on the bench, Cambridge played as Tech’s pseudo big man as he logged 33 minutes registering 14 points and 6 rebounds.  Look for plenty of small-ball from Tech this year when Washington is out of the game.

Texas Tech shoots a ton of 3s

According to a friend who was in attendance, A&M played a ton of zone defense.  That could be one reason the Red Raiders shot 34 three-pointers.

Making 14, Tech was 41% from deep, a great sign for a team that was not great in that regard a season ago.  Isaacs and McMillan combined to shoot 22 of those shots with 12 coming from McMillan, who made four.  Isaacs, meanwhile, was 6-10 on the day.

I don’t know if McCasland’s plan is to have 60% of his team’s field goal attempts be from beyond the arc every night but that happened in this scrimmage.  Hopefully, Tech’s hot shooting in this game is a sign of things to come and not just a one-off performance.

Texas Tech was significantly out-rebounded

It’s a good thing that Tech was hot from deep because, on the glass, the Red Raiders were dominated.  With A&M holding a 42-28 edge, it was evident that the Aggies’ size was a problem.

A&M had 17 offensive boards and 23 second-chance points, pointing out an area where Tech is going to have to get better.  Washington’s absence likely contributed to this disparity but this will be something that McCasland will have to find a way to remedy this season.

Turnovers were a big part of Texas Tech’s win

Forcing 14 turnovers and getting 21 points off of them, Texas Tech looked like a disruptive team.  That’s a hallmark of a McCasland program and something Red Raider fans will be excited to see carry over to his time in Lubbock.

Meanwhile, Tech was also good when it came to taking care of the ball.  The Red Raiders had only 14 turnovers leading to 11 A&M points.  That 10-point edge in points off of turnovers was perhaps the key to the win and something that needs to be a consistent component of Tech’s successful recipe this year.