Texas Tech basketball: Red Raiders grind out win to stay unbeaten

Texas Tech's forward Warren Washington (22) dribbles the ball against San Jose State in a non conference basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, at United Supermarkets Arena.
Texas Tech's forward Warren Washington (22) dribbles the ball against San Jose State in a non conference basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, at United Supermarkets Arena. /

Thursday in Lubbock, the Texas Tech basketball team was far from perfect in a 73-64 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  However, Grant McCasland saw his team make enough plays down the stretch to remain unbeaten ahead of next week’s three-game slate at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

Texas Tech gets a big night from Chance McMillan

Maybe the best sign for the Red Raiders was the fact that reserve guard Chance McMillan had his first big night with the program.  The transfer from Grand Canyon led the team with 17 points, two rebounds, and a steal in just 25 minutes of action.

Known as a very good shooter when he came to Lubbock, he had yet to show off that skill for his new fan base.  However, on Thursday, he went 7-12 from the floor including hitting three of the eight 3-pointers he attempted.

It was important for Tech to get that type of showing from McMillan given that starting guard Pop Isaacs struggled for the second-straight game with just eight points on 2-8 shooting in 27 minutes.  In fact, as the game came down to the closing minutes, it was McMillan on the floor for the Red Raiders, not Isaacs, which tells you just how each player performed against the Islanders.

The hope is that soon both McMillan and Isaacs will be on their game at the same time.  Should that happen, Tech will be a pretty salty team.

Warren Washington puts a scare into Texas Tech fans

If there was ever any question as to who the most indispensable player on this roster is, ask yourself how you felt seeing 7-foot center Warren Washington limp off the floor in the middle of the second half.  Yeah.  That was a moment when every Texas Tech fan held their breath.

Fortunately, it appeared that Washington’s affliction was just a cramp and he was able to return and finish the game.  And what a game he had.

The Arizona State transfer finished with 13 points (a season-high), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block in 27 minutes.  He was also 5-7 at the line after entering the game shooting just 50%.

There is no question that Washington is the player this team can least afford to lose given the lack of size behind him.  We got a brief scare when he hobbled to the bench nearly unable to put weight on one leg.  Thankfully, he was able to avoid any serious injury as he helped lead Texas Tech to victory.

The free-throw line was key for Texas Tech

One reason Tech was able to come out on top was the free-throw line.  That’s where the Red Raiders were 20-27 while TAMU-CC was just 5-9.

This year, Tech is averaging 22.7 free-throw attempts per game.  In fact, in two of this year’s three games, McCasland has seen his squad get to the line at least 27 times.

That’s been a huge edge for the Red Raiders as they have taken 52 more free throws than their opponents.  That won’t continue in the Bahamas, though so Tech had better find a way to score more efficiently in other ways.

Texas Tech continues to struggle from deep

One area where Tech must be better at the Battle 4 Atlantis is in its 3-point shooting.  Entering the game at just 20% as a team, the Red Raiders were again poor against TAMU-CC.

Going just 5-24 overall, Tech actually saw its team shooting percentage stay relatively unchanged on Thursday night.  However, there were some timely 3-point makes.

Joe Toussaint dropped in a rainbow heave to put his team up 60-51 with 6:09 to play.  Then, McMillan would nail one with 1:51 to play to help Tech hang on by putting the home team up 69-60.

However, two of Tech’s best shooters, Isaacs and Kerwin Walton, combined to go just 1-7 from deep.  That’s something that can’t continue if the Red Raiders are going to be able to handle tougher tests in the upcoming games.

Will Texas Tech play up to its competition at Atlantis?

So far, against three non-major conference programs, Tech has played six halves of basketball.  Only one of those halves, the first one of the season, has been dominant.

Against Texas A&M-Commerce to begin the year, Tech jumped out to a 41-17 halftime lead.  Since then, each 20-minute segment has been a struggle at times.

Say what you want about San Jose St. or TAMU-CC being tough mid-major teams.  I didn’t see that from either of those squads.  Rather, Tech seemed to be content to play with its food in each of those games.

Now, it will be interesting to see if this team plays at a different level against Villanova on Wednesday the way it did against Texas A&M in the second preseason scrimmage last month in Denton.  If that doesn’t happen, their trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas could be a nightmare because what we’ve seen in the first three games hasn’t been good enough to make us think that Tech is ready to face elite teams.