Photo CC: John E. Moore III/Getty Images
Just before Christmas, Texas Tech was able to survive some poor officiating to escape with a win against the Sooners. In this game, Tech did not, largely because Oklahoma State received an absolute gift very late in regulation with a foul call that handed them three critical free throws. The shot fake to get a defender in the air and then jumping into them for a “shot” is a strategy teams often employ to try and get a cheap foul call, and when pulled off, it’s technically a foul by the rule book. The problem with Cade Cunningham’s attempt is that Kevin McCullar, one of the best defenders in all of basketball, didn’t really bite on the shot fake.
McCullar barely left the ground at all, and by the time Cade was able to jump forward into him, Kevin was already back on the ground and actually leaning away from him when Cunningham created the contact. This could only be called an offensive foul if anything. Situationally, this was also a call an official should never make. Rewarding a player on a team who is trailing with only seconds remaining in the game for unquestionably attempting to try and draw a “foul” is horrific officiating. It was concerning to see similar efforts to manipulate the officials rewarded in the OU game, and the weakness of Big XII officials is being flat-out exploited at this point. The play in question is below, and people can judge for themselves:
Admittedly, the Red Raiders did not do themselves any favors with another very sluggish start. Oklahoma State was able to run out to an early 22-10 lead that was reminiscent of the game against Houston earlier in the season. It is difficult to parse out exactly why the Texas Tech offense often struggles to get it going early. The Red Raiders under Chris Beard have been largely a much better team in second halves, but a factor in that statistic is that the teams often come out of the gate slowly.
The motion offense has proven too often susceptible to scoring droughts as well. It is difficult to reconcile the talent on the roster with the offensive struggles, and the more this issue rears its head, the more it looks capable of being the Achilles heel that could keep this team from achieving what it is capable of. The other evident weakness in free throw shooting is getting slightly better, but once again, the Red Raiders were bested by the opponent in that statistical category, and watching Cade Cunningham drain three consecutive free throws late felt like a feat that few Texas Tech players could pull off even if handed such a golden opportunity.
Kyler Edwards had another good game in his new sixth man role. Edwards remains capable of knocking down open shots, and his 18 points on the afternoon were key in getting Texas Tech back into the game after the slow start. Edwards did, however, get whistled for a ticky-tack moving screen call that prevented a Texas Tech attempt at a game-winning shot in regulation. Mac McClung did his best to carry the load offensively, but would ultimately foul out and had some poor turnovers, including one late in the overtime that would lead to a dunk for Oklahoma State that all but sealed their win. Interestingly enough, had McClung gone up for a “shot attempt” on this play to try and draw a foul similar to what Cunningham did towards the end of regulation, there would have been much more contact, and it would have been interesting to see if he would have been sent to the line.
Kevin McCullar’s rust came a game late, as he struggled on the offensive end against Oklahoma State. McCullar remains one of Tech’s best players and put in a good game overall, but a few more than two of his eleven shot attempts falling surely could have helped the Red Raiders get the win. It’s tough to be too harsh on him or Terrence Shannon, Jr. who put in a somewhat quiet, but workmanlike 13 points. Marcus Santos-Silva managed to stay out of foul trouble in this game and contributed well defensively. While he wasn’t overly impressive offensively, he did his job well enough in the game to give Tech a chance to win. Tyreek Smith effectively spelled Santos-Silva in this game and put in good, although limited minutes. Avery Benson also continues to add a spark to the team whenever he takes the floor, and he should probably see more minutes.
The elephant in the room of a player who arguably needs to see fewer minutes is Jamarius Burton. His minutes have dropped slightly with the return of Kevin McCullar, but it is looking increasingly like Burton isn’t cut out for this level of basketball. As one of the few upperclassmen on the Texas Tech roster, his play should frankly be better than it has been. Jamarius has averaged a paltry 4.5 points per game and has been more likely to turn the ball over than to force a turnover. Burton has also received significant opportunities, as his overall minutes equate to a starting role on this team, yet he has only scored in double-digits once against a very overmatched Grambling St team. Nothing jumps out on the statistical page in terms of production, and his game isn’t passing the eye test, either. While it is completely unenjoyable to single out a player for sub-par play, the roster talent is simply too good to have a starter consistently not producing. It appears that Chris Beard sees something in Burton, but it hasn’t been easy to put a finger on what that is.
Of note, Micah Peavy has also cooled off offensively of late, and Nimari Burnett hasn’t gotten much going there most of the year, but it’s a bit easier to excuse their development as true freshmen. Burnett has at least been a terrific defender, and Peavy has shown solid promise with plenty to like about his overall game. It’s hard to make a case for continuing to keep Burton out there while these two players are already playing better basketball despite their youth, and if the experience is the reason, Avery Benson is arguably a superior option there. It will be interesting to monitor this situation going forward, as Burton needs to elevate his game in a hurry or he will continue to see less and less playing time.
It simply wasn’t a fun day for Texas Tech Basketball, and the critical officiating gaffe just made it that more unpalatable. This is likely to not be an overly “bad loss” in the NET rankings by the end of the year, but it was an undeniably painful one. It was slightly mitigated around the league with KU getting blown out by Texas, WVU also losing, and Baylor getting a scare, but the Red Raiders are quickly taking themselves out of the Big XII title picture and it’s disappointing. Texas Tech needs to find ways to come out hotter than it has from the start and to be more dynamic offensively. Perhaps the aforementioned potential roster shakeup could accomplish this, and perhaps that is coming. The tough reality is that if the same issues continue on without changes, this team will fall well short of becoming what it could (and should) be.