Photo cc: (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)
The story of the game was the long-awaited return of Kevin McCullar, and what a return it was. Any concerns Tech fans may have had about if Kevin would be rusty or would be playing at less than 100% quickly vanished, as McCullar picked up right where he left off last year.
Kevin would finish the game as Tech’s leading scorer despite not playing significant minutes, along with three rebounds and a pair of assists. A decent argument could be made that Tech might be undefeated right now if he had been healthy all season, but Chris Beard and Tech fans have to be thrilled to see him not only back, but back in fine form.
McCullar was certainly missed while he was out, but the wait looks to have been worth it. In this game, it appeared that Beard was managing his minutes a bit, and the game being decided fairly early meant that everyone played. It remains to be seen what kind of workload he sees going forward (and the Oklahoma State game on Saturday will likely give a better indication), but Kevin certainly looks worthy of jumping back into a starting role.
A former starter who has seen himself become a sixth man is Kyler Edwards, and he may be embracing the role. Kyler was rather effective in the game. He went 50% from long range, went 4-4 from the line, and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds to go along with two assists. Edwards may well be at his best when he doesn’t feel like he has to carry the team as a scorer, and with McCullar now back in the rotation to take even more pressure off, Kyler may benefit even further.
It was a quieter scoring day for both Terrence Shannon, Jr. and Mac McClung, but both played great games overall. McClung in particular was putting on a show as a passer, and grabbing seven rebounds at his size tells you the level of effort he was putting in out there. One play that stood out was a miss from beyond the arc in which Mac came flying in from out of nowhere to grab his own rebound, which led to a putback score. Shannon, Jr., and Mac also teamed up for perhaps the prettiest play of the night with a perfect pass from Terrence to McClung as he did a baseline cut that ended in a smooth reverse.
Marcus Santos-Silva played another good game, but he has to be more careful with the fouls. Marcus has had a tendency to take himself out of games by picking up some fouls he doesn’t have to. One of his early fouls occurred beyond the perimeter, which is a place that he shouldn’t ever be picking up a foul. Most of his fouls are effort fouls, which makes them a bit easier to take, but Marcus can’t do much from the bench. It was also a rough outing at the stripe as he went 3-8. Santos-Silva needs to improve there in a hurry, otherwise, teams are just going to strategically put him there. Not to be too harsh on MSS, but he remains a critical player that is more than capable of being a great starter if he can stay on the floor and make teams pay at the line.
Tyreek Smith continues to be an excellent rim protector, but there were a few sloppy plays that won’t show well on film. Smith is still somewhat raw and needs to work on the little things, but the ability is unquestionably there. It’s only a matter of time before he really starts hitting his stride.
Micah Peavy had a quality effort. This was a development worth watching, as Peavy has somewhat played the role this year that Kevin McCullar did last year. Seeing both players produce is welcome, and they may not need to be fighting over the same role. Having two players on the floor capable of getting to the rim and hitting midrange shots is quite the luxury.
Jamarius Burton played one of his better games as a Red Raider. Burton did not have a turnover and had one emphatic dunk that was a nice surprise. Tech had only played eight players in the last few games, so one of the things worth keeping an eye on in this game as it began to get out of hand was who would come in first. The first off the bench was Chibuzo Agbo. Agbo keeps flashing his ability here and there. He has a nice shot and just needs to get some more minutes. Like Tyreek Smith, he is a physical freak with a significant upside. Chibuzo played well in this game, as did Nimari Burnett in what now equates to basically a seventh-man role. In fact, Clarence Nadolny was the only Red Raider not to score a point in the game.
McCullar trotting out onto the court understandably drew the biggest applause of the night, but Red Raider fans were able to see a few of their favorites log more time than usual. Vladislav Goldin had his best game so far. Goldin still needs to use his size better on the defensive end, but Vlad did back a defender toward the basket for a nice and-one layup. It was a textbook post play, and it drew big cheers. The Red Raider bench also erupted when Vlad took a good charge. Avery Benson would also come in and close out the game with a pair of made three-pointers, reminding everyone that he can still knock it down when given the opportunity. It was great to see some of the players who hadn’t seen minutes in the last few games get the chance to play and continue to develop, and Avery remains the rock of this group and perhaps the whole roster.
Kevin McCullar’s return and what it means to this team cannot be overstated. Tech goes from good to great now that he is back. The Red Raiders were already an elite defensive group and now add Kevin to the mix, who might be the best of them. Offensively, it’s one more player who is more than capable of producing as well. Tech can now better survive an off night from one of its typical scorers. McClung and Shannon, Jr. won’t have to press as much. Kyler won’t have to attempt a half-dozen threes. If the bigs get in foul trouble, McCullar is also plenty capable of doing some damage inside. If the Big XII wasn’t already worried about facing the Red Raiders, they certainly should be now.