Texas Tech picks worst possible time to play one of its worst games of the season in loss to NC State

In Thursday's loss to NC State, the Texas Tech basketball picked an awful time to play an awful game.

NC State v Texas Tech
NC State v Texas Tech / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

So much for the belief that Texas Tech was playing its best basketball of the season in March. That was the prevailing thought after the Red Raiders closed out the regular season with three double-digit wins and then blew out BYU in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

Of course, in March it takes only one bad night to wreck a season and that's what happened to the Red Raiders Thursday in their 80-67 loss to NC State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the defeat, Grant McCasland's team made some uncharacteristic mistakes on defense, played without the edge that had carried it to unexpected heights this season, and couldn't throw the basketball into the Allegheny River if it was standing in a boat.

Here's a look at just what went wrong for the Red Raiders. Hide the kids because this isn't going to be pretty.

Texas Tech was thoroughly dominated in the post

Once we learned that Texas Tech was going to have the services of center Warren Washington for the first time in about a month (minus one 13-minute outing against UCF at the end of February), the belief was that he would be enough to help the Red Raiders do battle in the paint. That wasn't the case and it was probably naive for us to think that the 7-footer would be a difference-maker in his first game back from his foot injury.

Washington and Robert Jennings offered little resistance to the NC State big men. The trio of Ben Middlebrooks, DJ Burns, and Mohamed Diarra combined for 54 points and 17 rebounds. Normally, those players average a combined 24.7 points per game but each scored at least 16 points with Middlebrooks putting up a career-high 21, almost 16 points over his season scoring average. Meanwhile, Tech's big men went for just 12 points and 10 rebounds.

This offseason, Tech has to make fortifying the paint its top priority. Washington is now out of eligibility and Jennings simply doesn't have the size to be more than just a role player. What's more, there are no other big men on the roster meaning that the portal is going to have to bring McCasland multiple people with real size.

NC State's best guard was miles better than Texas Tech's best guard

This was a matchup to two teams that featured one high-scoring guard and a bunch of back-court role players. Unfortunately, NC State's DJ Horne was able to outplay Tech's Pop Isaacs by leaps and bounds.

Horne went for 16 points on 5-13 shooting, which isn't stellar nor efficient. However, it was much better than what Isaacs gave Tech.

Making his first NCAA Tournament appearance, the sophomore was a woeful 3-16 from the floor and 1-10 from 3-point range for just 12 inefficient points. Texas Tech fans had hopes that the Pop Isaacs that we had seen over the past two or three weeks would be the one we saw in the Big Dance given Isaacs' propensity for going off in big games but that didn't happen and this roster wasn't built to withstand such an inefficient night from its best guard, especially when playing the hottest team America.

Darrion Williams wasn't 100% healthy

Though he was a week removed from spraining his ankle against BYU, Red Raider forward Darrion Williams was not close to 100%. In fact, he could be seen wincing throughout the night on his way to just 10 points on 4-11 shooting.

Williams had no explosiveness when driving the ball and no lift on his jump shot. Also, the length of the Wolfpack seemed to bother him as Diarra in particular was able to use his 6-foot-10 frame and his athleticism to take away the post-up game that has made Williams so effective for most of this season.

Texas Tech was dreadful from 3-point range

The old adage about living by the 3-pointer and dying by the 3-pointer surely proved true for Texas Tech on Thursday. That's because the Big 12's second-best 3-point shooting team was just 7-31 as a group. That's a dreadful 22.6% for a team that shot 36.5% from deep on the season.

We've already discussed Isaacs' struggles from deep but Chance McMillian was 0-4 from beyond the arc and Joe Toussaint was only 1-7. Tech needed a big game from McMillian from deep and that didn't happen. What's more, the plan for this team was never to rely on Toussaint to shoot seven 3s in a game given that he's not an accomplished outside shooter.

In the end, Tech settled for too many bad 3-point attempts because the length of the Wolfpack discouraged the Red Raiders from getting to the rim and running its offense the way the Red Raiders do when they are at their best. Even a team that shoots the ball as well as Tech isn't likely to want to shoot 31 shots from downtown in a game. That's a sign of desperation.

Texas Tech didn't have the edge at the free-throw line

So often this year, in Tech's biggest wins, the free-throw line has been an area of advantage. After all, Tech was the best free-throw shooting team in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country.

However, the Red Raiders got to the line only 14 times on Thursday night. Though they made 12 of those attempts, they didn't get there with enough frequency. That's what happens when you shoot 31 shots from deep.

On the other hand, NC State was 21-26 at the line. That 11-point difference was responsible for most of the final margin in the game and a reminder of which team was the more physical and aggressive squad.