The Texas Tech basketball team took down No. 11 Oklahoma 85-84 on Saturday afternoon so naturally, head coach Grant McCasland was upbeat during his post-game press conference. Let's break down some interesting quotes from the Red Raiders' leader who has his team in first place in the conference standings.
Texas Tech is still all about the defense first
Yes, Texas Tech is scoring at a rate that no one expected when McCasland was hired given his reputation as a defensive coach. And no, this isn't the most dominant or suffocating defensive team we've seen on the South Plains. Still, though, defense is always at the forefront of McCasland's mind and even on a night when Chance McMillan scored a career-high 27 points, the head coach was focused on what McMillan did defensively,
"I thought Oklahoma's physicality as the game went on caused us problems," he said. They put us on our heels, but thankfully for Chance and the belief of our team, we stayed in the fight. Ultimately, I did think our ability to get some stops and get out in transition to open the game up and then Chance's defense also gave us an edge. The way he competed helped us win this basketball game. He really wants to win and I thought this game showed that."
McMillan isn't known as a shutdown defensive player. In fact, his defensive rating is just 104.1, which is below average. However, the 6-foot-2 guard is actually one of the bigger Red Raider guards given that Pop Isaacs and Joe Toussaint are both around 6-feet tall. So at times, McMillan does have to check larger guards, and his ability to be at least passable as a defender is key, even though he will always be known more as an offensive player.
Texas Tech fights back from another sizable deficit
Once again, Texas Tech managed to fight back from a significat deficit to win a Big 12 game. On Saturday, it was a 9-point hole that McCasland's team had to erase in the final eight minutes of play. McCasland spoke about how his team has been able to come back against so many tough teams.
"It's about how you withstand the momentum swings," McCasland said. "You can't lose sight of that and panic offensively. When you get down, there can be a tendency to try to get it back too quick. I felt like our transition baskets from Pop and Joe really helped us. Their defense is really good. They can get you in a ball-screen coverage that is hard to play against. They are well-coached. You're not going to score on the first ball screen, so quit trying. Get to the next action. Those transition baskets opened up the game and were big for our momentum."
What is fascinating about this team is that it has developed its tough mindset in the first year of the McCasland era. Often, a team in the first year of a coach's tenure doesn't fully take to what that coach preaches. That's especially true of a team with as many new pieces and young players as the Red Raiders have in 2023-24.
For instance, Chris Beard's first team in Lubbock couldn't win the close games leading to just a 18-14 overall record and a 6-12 Big 12 showing. McCasland is well on his way to eclipsing those numbers by a wide margin and that's because he's been able to get his team to buy into and adopt the mentality that he wants it to have. That's a testament to the quality of coach that he is.
McCasland isn't worried about the league standings
A third of the way through Big 12 play, Texas Tech remains the only team in the conference with a single loss on the ledger. However, McCasland isn't looking too far ahead or worrying about his team's place in the conference.
"Honestly, I don't care about anything past like what we're doing with this immediate team," he said. "Honestly, there's a lot of things going on in this league and the moment you start looking other than the group you're with and how you improve on a daily basis, I just think you make mistakes, I really do.
"The moment you start looking at [your record] you start taking your attention off of how you can improve...I tell [the players] all the time, there's a lot going on out there. How can we improve every day and how can we love each other well? And that sounds kinda corny but that's the only thing we care about...I doesn't matter, the standings."
Tech will need to maintain its focus with a quick turnaround before its next road test, Tuesday night in Fort Worth against TCU. That's why McCasland's leadership and this program's tough mentality is so critical because, in the Big 12, there's never much time to sit back and enjoy success.