On a day when two of the Big 12's best scorers faced off, it was a glue guy who led the Texas Tech basketball team to a 66-59 win over Central Florida in Lubbock. Darrion Williams played the role of the hero for the Red Raiders with 13 points and 13 rebounds (both team-highs) on a day when Pop Isaacs, the team's leading, scorer managed to put just seven points on the board.
Fortunately, UCF's star guard, Jaylin Sellers, also didn't get into a groove. Coming into the game averaging over 17 points per game, the junior was held to only 14 points on 5-13 shooting overall and 1-7 from 2-point range.
In a game that never showed any aesthetic appeal, Tech never trailed. In fact, at one point, the home team would build as much as a 10-point second-half lead only to see the Knights cut the deficit to one point late in the game.
The Red Raiders couldn't quite put away their feisty but offensively-challenged foe until late in the game, though. In fact, the lead was just 60-57 with one minute remaining in the second half.
Fortunately, Joe Toussaint would hit all four of his free-throws in the final minute of play and Chance McMillan would add two more to help the Red Raiders squeak out a win. For the game, Tech was 13-15 (86.7%) at the line while the Knights were 8-12 (66.7%) as, once again in Lubbock, the Red Raiders made more free throws than their opponent shot.
Toussaint was one of four Red Raiders in double figures finishing with 11 points to go along with three rebounds and two assists. However, it was a steal that he came up with that helped seal the game.
Being in the right place at the right time, Toussaint corralled a loose ball that Sellers threw away while trying to make a play with his team down three points and 1:30 remaining. On the following possession, McMillon missed a jumper but Warren Washington would help the Red Raiders grab the offensive rebound to keep the possession alive. Some 15 seconds later, Toussaint would hit the first two of his four last-minute free throws to help give his team some much-needed breathing room.
That was the last of only eight UCF turnovers on the day. Meanwhile, Tech gave the ball away just ten times, as the teams combined for a surprisingly low number of turnovers for a game that was as physical and at times disjointed as this one was.
The Red Raiders now sit at 6-4 in Big 12 play and 17-6 overall. Now, they turn their attention to Monday night's home showdown against No. 4 Kansas.
That's why this win was so important. Heading into a game against the Jayhawks on a four-game losing streak would be an awful way to try to spring that upset. It would have put a level of pressure on the Red Raiders that could have been a huge burden in what is likely to be the most anticipated home game of the season.
Now, Tech can head into that game feeling better both physically (after a recent flu bug swept through the team) and mentally. If the Red Raiders can take Saturday's home win and build off of it, as ugly as it might have been, then Monday could be an opportunity to build some serious momentum once again and solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, Saturday's win was an important step in that direction. Thankfully, Darrion Williams had one of his best all-around games of the year to help the Red Raiders get back to their winning ways.