Photo cc: Justin Rex/Dallas Morning News/AP
Texas Tech could be 8-0 right now if they simply shot well from the charity stripe. The two losses have featured 54.4% and 61.1% performances at the free-throw line, and that isn’t going to win games. What does win games is going 14-15 (93.3%), as Kansas did. This was a completely winnable game for Tech, and Coach Beard seemed to reject any moral victory as he should. Tech let KU stay in the game and KU managed to make a play at the end to win it. Much like with UH, this is in no way a “bad loss” for the Red Raiders, but the team letting another potential big win slip away is frustrating.
Mac McClung did his part. He mostly overcame his well-documented shooting slump of late and posted 21 points on the day. Mac’s excellent first half on the offensive end was carrying Tech against a stingy KU defense. Kansas coach Bill Self and Chris Beard were playing some matchup chess throughout the game. Early on, it looked like Beard got the better of this, as McClung was successfully penetrating the defense while KU did not have an answer for Tyreek Smith’s aggressiveness inside. It is atypical for KU to lack a quality post presence, but that is the case this year. Unfortunately for Tech, KU’s guard play picked up the slack. Ochai Agbaji had a huge day, going 8-11 from the field, 4-7 from deep, and 3-4 from the line for 23 points.
Terrence Shannon, Jr. did his best to answer. Shannon, Jr. finally started pulling the trigger from the perimeter and made more three-pointers in this game than he had all year. His four made threes, with one of them coming late in the first half and another coming late in the game to give Tech the lead, are the kind of shots you want to see your star players take and hit. Terrence would not see his final shot fall as it was partially blocked, and in 20/20 hindsight probably should have taken it all the way to the rim, but it’s hard to be upset with his overall effort at all. The same can be said of McClung and Tyreek Smith. Smith in particular looked great in limited minutes, and if Chris Beard had a do-over, likely would have gotten more time on the floor.
It was a tough outing for Marcus Santos-Silva, who found himself trying to defend speedier guards and thus picking up lots of fouls. However, more disappointing was the play of Kyler Edwards, who had been playing so well of late. In 37 minutes in this game, he went 0-9 from the floor with one rebound, one assist, and one steal. Tech would get similarly little from both Nimari Burnett and Jamarius Burton. Burnett continues to contribute defensively, but Burton needs to be playing better basketball considering the minutes he’s seeing. The matchups in this game dictated heavy use of the guards, and Edwards, Burton, and Burnett were largely MIA. Beard seems to have decided that Benson, Agbo, and Nadolny are a talent dropoff and would have been overmatched against KU, but Tech only played eight players in the game. Benson in particular may have deserved some minutes considering the struggles of a few of the guards, and Tyreek Smith arguably should have gotten more time under the rim.
Micah Peavy is a semi-starter, but should probably be even more so. Tech is a better team when he’s out there because he does so many things well, and he adds a bonus mid-range game that no one else on the roster has. Kevin McCullar was missed in this one, but Peavy continues to do a great McCullar impression in overall skill. When Kevin returns, one of him and Peavy needs to be out there at all times, if not both. Burnett is still developing, Edwards and McClung are prone to off shooting nights, and Burton just isn’t adding much value out on the floor. It remains to be seen how the lineup will look when McCullar returns, but until then, a strong case can be made for reducing Burton’s minutes and giving them to Peavy. Mac and Kyler add too much scoring upside to take them off the floor much, and Burnett is trending up with flashes of brilliance amidst overall great defense. Tyreek Smith also played well enough to start sharing more of the load with MSS.
Enough armchair coaching in hindsight, though, as Beard is obviously one of the best there is and has this team looking plenty capable despite its youth. The roster needs to learn how to shoot free throws in a hurry, but there’s otherwise a lot to like, even in a loss. There is still a bit of a question as to how well the motion offense does against a zone because Self’s late transition to a zone forced multiple Tech misses from the perimeter and let KU climb back in the game. Tech would eventually adjust and started moving the ball better late, but lost valuable points in those minutes. Still, this game was lost by Tech and won by KU at the free-throw line, and those points proved invaluable in a matchup between two great defenses. It was very close to a good start to Big XII play for Tech, and good things are certainly coming for this team, but it’s clear where the team’s current weakness lies.