The Texas Tech basketball team pulled out of its recent tailspin by taking down UCF on Saturday, 66-59. In some ways, this game was a throwback performance by Grant McCasland's team which won by using a formula that is familiar to Red Raider fans but which hasn't been seen all that often this season.
"It wasn't the most 'pleasing to the eye' game," head coach Grant McCasland said. "Obviously, offensively there were times where I thought we did good things. We struggled, give them credit, UCF's defense is one of the best in the country. But man, it's fun to win a game with defense. We haven't been doing that very well. To be able to not play well offensively and to out-rebound a team that going into the game we knew would be difficult to keep them off the glass. The fact that we found a way to win this game, got to the free throw line – we made more free throws than they attempted."
Indeed, winning with defense has been rare for Texas Tech this season. In fact, it was only the third time this season that this team has prevailed in a game in which it didn't get to at least 70 points (it was the second such Big 12 game this season as well).
That used to be a specialty of Texas Tech basketball. However, this year's team just isn't a defensive juggernaut.
Tech is currently ranked just 88th in the KenPom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rating. That metric estimates the number of points a team surrenders per 100 possessions to take the pace of play factor out of consideration when estimating the defensive performance of each team in the nation.
In recent years, such as 2019 and 2022, the Red Raiders have led the nation in that statistical category. However, that's just not what the current iteration of the program is built to do.
Rather, Tech has been winning games by having one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. In fact, McCasland's bunch ranks 12th nationally in the KenPom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
However, against UCF, the buckets didn't come easy. Tech shot only 38.3% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the 3-point arc.
It was an offensive showing that could have easily led to a fourth-straight defeat but the defensive end of the court proved to be Tech's savior, even on a day when the Red Raiders turned the ball over two more times than the Knights did.
"We knew not turning the ball over that led to baskets for them would be a big deal in the game," McCasland said. "Them having eight points off turnovers, they were problems, but it wasn't the difference in the game. So really, an ugly one in regards to the way we played, but we found a way to do it and I thought our defense improved."
So how exactly did the Red Raiders pull out this important win? Let's go inside the box score to look at some critical stats that help tell the story of the game.
For one of the few times in Big 12 play, Tech actually won the rebounding battle
Rebounding might be this team's biggest flaw. In fact, by some measures, Tech is the worst rebounding team in the conference.
However, on Saturday, the Red Raiders won the rebounding battle. What's more, they did so by a wide margin; 44-37.
It is only the second time this season that Tech has out-rebounded a Big 12 opponent. Back on January 9, the Red Raiders beat Oklahoma State on the glass 30-29.
One reason Tech managed to prevail on the glass was because UCF was without a key member of its starting lineup. Ibrahima Diallo, a 7-foot, 246-pound senior did not play due to injury on Saturday meaning UCF was without its leading rebounder who averages 6.2 rebounds (and 6.2 points) per game.
Also, the return of Warren Washington, Tech's starting center, was a huge boost on the glass. A senior as well, the Arizona State transfer pulled down 11 rebounds one game after sitting out vs. Baylor on Tuesday night due to the flu.
However, Washington didn't lead the Red Raiders in rebounds. The player who did that was sophomore Darrion Williams who grabbed 13 boards on the afternoon.
That number was one shy of his season high and the sixth time he has had at least 10 rebounds in a game this season. What's fascinating is that this big rebounding day came one game after Williams was able to grab only two against Baylor.
The optimist will look at this rebounding performance and say that it is a sign that the Red Raiders are improving when it comes to this critical aspect of the game. The pessimist will say that Tech was only able to win on the glass because UCF was without Diallo. Who is right? Only time will tell.
What isn't debatable is that the Red Raiders needed to finally find a way to beat an opponent on the boards after weeks of coming up short in that regard. They did that on Saturday and it was refreshing to witness.