Photo cc: Herald Courier/Eric Gay
Mac has officially entered legend territory with a pair of game-winners to his credit already. This one will certainly be remembered for years to come, as Texas Tech scored a signature win against a rival to make history. The Red Raiders have now won three straight in Austin and three straight Big XII road games. Both feats are rather impressive, and for this season after coming oh-so-close against Kansas and after not being able to pull off the comeback following a slow start against Houston, this win was especially important. This is a resume win that may well bump this team’s NCAA seed up a slot come March, and it was almost a must-have to stay in the conference race. A Tech team that had arguably underachieved early on finally appears to be breaking through. Decimating ISU in Ames looked capable of being a turning point for the team’s morale/confidence, and the Red Raiders have officially put the Big XII on notice now.
Chris Beard preaches 4:1 mental toughness, and this was the sort of game that many teams would have let get out of reach. Texas was shooting an absurd percentage from beyond the arc, the calls weren’t much going Tech’s way, the bounces on rebounds and loose balls were going to the exact spots to keep giving Texas extra possessions, etc. Still, the Red Raiders kept fighting and kept the game within reach, and although the ESPN halftime crew appeared more than ready to chalk up the win for the Longhorns as they gleefully pointed out how the Tech defense was giving up more points than usual, the patented Beard halftime adjustment had other plans. UT would only score 29 more points in the game, and that was even with the hot shooting from beyond the arc continuing as they finished the game with 13-25 shooting for a 52% day from deep. This was partly due to Tech winning the free throw shooting for once. Tech shot 78.6% from the charity stripe to UT’s 58.1%. A large portion of UT’s misses there came from Jericho Sims, who went 6-14 from the line. Sims was allowed to commit moving screens and to go over-the-back on rebounds all game long, so perhaps it was some “ball don’t lie” karma in effect when he kept getting awarded trips to the line.
McClung deserves to be the story of the game, but Kevin McCullar’s performance deserves appreciation. Kevin had several plays where he just would not be denied that are becoming typical of his game but remain exceptional. McCullar was 6-7 from the field, 2-2 from deep, 2-3 at the line, had 8 boards and notched an assist. That’s a good day at the office, and his 16 points were key in keeping Tech in the game while Kyler Edwards took some time to get going. Speaking of Edwards, it looked as if Kyler was headed for another egg in a big game, as he had struggled against both Houston and Kansas. However, the best thing for shooters to do is to keep shooting, and Edwards knocked down two huge threes late in the game to help Tech climb back in the game and then take its first lead since the early seconds of the game with just under four minutes to play. The Red Raiders wouldn’t have won this game without those shots falling in clutch moments, so while Edwards’ streaky shooting can be maddening at times, patience wins the day and he still deserves that green light because he can hit the big ones.
Apologies are owed to Marcus Santos-Silva for underestimating him in this matchup. The Longhorn bigs are lengthy and more athletic than Marcus, so on paper, it seemed like this wouldn’t have been his game. In fact, this column somewhat advocated for Tyreek Smith to be the guy in this game for that very reason. While Smith did have a bigger role than usual and played it well defensively to limit the efficacy of players like Kai Jones, Greg Brown, and Jericho Sims, Santos-Silva was still largely the starter and used sound technique to more than hold his own against UT down low. Greg Brown’s only scoring damage came from deep, as he otherwise only managed three points, and Kai Jones was also held to three. Sims did have a productive scoring day, but that was mostly attributable to the officials being a borderline Jericho Sims fan club considering the treatment he received. All in all, UT’s bigs were held to a paltry 8 FGs, and two of those were Greg Brown’s three-point attempts that Coach Beard would probably allow in most cases. Santos-Silva played a terrific game overall on both ends of the court, and when he scores in double-digits, good things happen. Marcus continues to improve on his free-throw shooting as well, and the 4-5 effort there makes Red Raiders everywhere smile.
It was not a great shooting day from Terrence Shannon, Jr., but credit to the Longhorn defense for making it tough on him. UT made a concerted effort to try and take him out of the game, yet Terrence still managed 14 points. Shannon, Jr. did most of his damage from the line, as he was otherwise taking more perimeter shots than usual with limited success. Terrence would go 1-8 from deep, but it’s easy to forgive him for trying to answer in response to UT’s lights-out day beyond the arc, and also, he was simply forced into some contested attempts by quality defense from UT. It was not a good offensive day from the floor for Micah Peavy as well, but he played some solid minutes from a defensive standpoint. Jamarius Burton reverted a bit to tentative play on offense, which was disappointing. Texas is about the worst matchup for him to try to drive the lane on, and there were multiple failures there, including one late that could have been extremely costly had it not been for McClung’s game-winning heroics. Of note, Burton was really doing the right things defensively to help prevent UT’s guards from driving much, so credit where credit is due there. There was also a late first-half appearance by Nadolny, but this appears to have been designed to keep other players from potentially picking up a costly foul in the closing seconds. Clarence, for his part, played this minute well to help keep UT from scoring late in the half.
It’s rare that teams win when their opponent scores 39 points off of three-pointers alone, especially on the road. Considering the raw talent Texas has inside, this should have been a recipe for disaster, and it very nearly was. However, Tech hung around via a combination of fundamental two-way basketball by Santos-Silva/McCullar and a team defensive performance that didn’t allow much inside the arc all game. This set the stage for a few clutch late threes by Edwards to put Tech squarely in the game, and Mac hit a shot for the ages to seal the deal. The ruling that it was a two-pointer instead of a three remains very questionable, but it ultimately didn’t matter. Chris Beard would likely say that the win is all that counts. For Red Raider fans, it will join Keenan Evans’ buzzer-beater as a great memory in this rivalry, and it’s one that UT fans already wish they could forget.