(Photo CC: Texas Tech Athletics)
Tech gives Baylor all that they can handle, but falls short on offense
The glass-half-full takeaway from a week of big matchups for Texas Tech is that going 1-1 against a pair of top 5 teams and playing both of them tough is proof that Tech’s team is not going to be an easy out for anyone going forward. The glass-half-empty perspective would be that much like against Kansas, Tech had a chance to win a game against a highly-ranked opponent and couldn’t find the scoring to get it done. Losing to the #2 team in a game that was close throughout is the opposite of a bad loss, but it is frustrating to watch the team let what could have been a big win slip away. After a huge win against UT earlier in the week, it’s a big ask for another to happen a few days later. Still, Tech’s program is at a level now where it can certainly play with anyone, so moral victories simply aren’t satisfactory.
Tech’s overall defense was stellar. Jared Butler was held scoreless for the majority of the game and no one on the Bears roster had a particularly easy time scoring. The problem was, Tech’s offense had an equally difficult time getting anything going. Baylor deserves credit for some stingy defense, but the Red Raiders simply weren’t hitting shots. The difference in the game was Baylor hitting a few late threes, while Tech went a poor 6-24 from beyond the arc. Tied to that, Tech needed better guard play from Terence Shannon, Jr. and Kyler Edwards. Baylor had two guards come through for them from an offensive standpoint, while Mac McClung was the only member of Tech’s scorers to produce. Kyler Edwards is streaky, so it wasn’t overly surprising to see his off night, but Shannon, Jr. had been a model of consistency coming into this one. It’s tough to lay the loss at the feet of a star player because he didn’t live up to his usual excellence for once, but the fact is that two points isn’t Terrence’s typical day. Shannon, Jr. deserved forgiveness for this performance the second the game ended due to how well he has played overall this season, but it unquestionably was a factor in this loss.
Mac McClung and Kevin McCullar played their roles as well as anyone could have hoped. McClung posted 24 points and played one of his best defensive game as a Red Raider, as he was a surprising factor in blocking multiple Baylor shots due to his hops. McCullar remains the do-it-all rock for the team, and there’s a strong argument as to him currently being the best player on the roster. Kevin is very nearly averaging a double-double in the last three games of Big XII play, which is truly an accomplishment for someone who isn’t really playing down low. Those numbers are a measurement of his hustle on both ends of the floor, and in this game, he added four blocks, three assists, and two steals. That is terrific basketball. Additionally, Micah Peavy continues to track towards becoming this type of player somewhere down the line. Peavy had one of the prettiest step-through buckets all season and remains excellent on defense and in general basketball IQ.
It is extremely difficult to defend another egg laid by Jamarius Burton in what is very nearly a starting role. Burton is an offensive liability at this point, as he’s more likely to turn the ball over than he is to score on a given play. The visible panic anytime Jamarius encounters a challenge defensively is not an issue that appears to be going away. Nimari Burnett’s departure hasn’t yet translated negatively to the team overall, but it certainly seems that it was related to playing time. Considering how little Burton is doing with his minutes on offense and how Burnett has a much higher ceiling down the road, it’s worth considering whether or not the right call was made there in betting on Burton. Beard has certainly earned some latitude, but this choice so far looks like a whiff. It’s not even clear at this point if Burton is an upgrade over Avery Benson, who isn’t much of a downgrade defensively and offers more from a scoring standpoint. Burton has to get better now.
Marcus Santos-Silva held his own defensively in limiting Mark Vital’s ability to do much inside, but there were multiple plays in which he took his eyes off of a pass intended for him to focus on what he was going to do with the ball. One of these would have gone for an uncontested dunk, and a few others would have likely led to trips to the line at worst. Marcus cost McClung two or three assists that should have been, and this represented several baskets that could have been the difference. Santos-Silva joins a few Red Raider teammates in having an up-and-down game against the Bears, but it’s the little plays that can separate a win from a loss. It is worth mentioning that it was an uncharacteristically sloppy game for Tech overall with 20 turnovers, so Marcus was far from the only offender there, but his were ones that were a bit harder to take because they could have directly translated to a few more much-needed points.
The Big XII officiating continues to be absolutely amateur hour. This is the case virtually every game, regardless of the outcome. UT was allowed several questionable plays earlier in the week such as hitting McClung with an intentional elbow during a stoppage and hovering over his back on the free-throw line, in addition to receiving a highly questionable deduction of a point from Tech and getting a bonus second in the waning moments of that game. The Baylor game featured incompetence instead of bias, as the two halves of basketball were officiated very differently. Tech did not even reach the free-throw line in the first half as both teams were allowed to play a very physical game, yet in the second half the whistles came out on the most ticky-tack of fouls. Furthermore, the officials seemed to want to make an anti-flop “statement” by issuing warnings to both teams, then proceeded to reward multiple flops by Baylor in the second half. There is no consistency, and the players have to basically guess as to what calls will and will not be made. It’s pathetic.
Patience and perspective seem to be key, as most Red Raider fans would have likely taken a split with the two top-5 teams Tech faced this week. The young team continues to improve and has already proven capable of matching up with some of the best teams in basketball. That said, the Red Raiders are 1-3 against ranked opponents and easily could have won at least one more of those games. The postseason will be filled with this caliber of opposition, so Tech needs to start winning more of these games. The success of the season will depend on the team’s ability to break through in the close ones as they did against Texas and failed to do against Baylor. Both the promise of and the concerns about this team were evident this week. If the team continues to grow as Chris Beard teams usually do, more of these games will turn into wins. If it does not, the team won’t achieve what it is capable of.