Photo cc: (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson) ((Brad Tollefson)
Texas Tech has to feel a bit fortunate to escape with a win in this game, considering the play was far from the team’s best. The Red Raiders were also lucky to face an OU team without Austin Reaves and Alondes Williams. It is worth noting that this same “depleted” OU team was able to defeat a top-10 Alabama team just days earlier, but in a game where scoring was at a premium, Reaves in particular may have made the difference. That all said, teams play with who they have, and Tech similarly could likely have a few more wins if Kevin McCullar had played all season. Considering McCullar’s exceptional effort in this game, that’s not much of a stretch. Shots weren’t really falling for either team, and that’s when players who aren’t typical “scorers” can step up. Kevin did precisely that in willing the team to win through his play. His final numbers were thirteen points, eight rebounds, two assists, four steals, and three turnovers. Everything except the turnovers impresses there, but there was some sloppy play early by the entire team which was mostly cleaned up in the second half once they got into a rhythm.
Well, mostly. Mac McClung, who had been on a ridiculous run of scoring, never really got his offense going. Credit to OU for defending him as well as anyone has, but Mac was also just off on his shooting, going 0-7 from the floor. There won’t be many nights like that from him, and he’s certainly entitled to have a bad night here and there. Still, Mac managed to make an impact defensively with the play of the night on a chase down block in which he showed off his tremendous hops. It was also good to see McClung seemingly realize that it wasn’t his night and that he’d be hurting the team if he started forcing bad shots to try and get his personal stat line up. That sort of team-first mentality is something great scorers often lack, so it is impressive to see Mac embracing it and maturing as a player. Terrence Shannon, Jr. also struggled in the first half to find his game, but his second-half play was excellent. Just as he did against LSU, he sealed the game with a key late bucket and clutch free-throw shooting. As a de facto “veteran” on this young team, Terrence has stepped up to be the leader this Texas Tech team needed him to be. The first 500 students were graced with an awesome commemorative t-shirt of Shannon, Jr., and the team made it a point to thank the student section in the postgame. The Tech fanbase seems plenty aware that they’re watching a special player who will likely be a high pick in the next draft (and deserves to be).
Marcus Santos-Silva is a huge reason why Texas Tech was able to sweep the Sooners this year. OU did not get much going inside in either game against Tech this year. Brady Manek was ultimately able to get to 11 points thanks to some late three-pointers, but that inflated what was otherwise a fairly pedestrian day. Santos-Silva again gave the team several extra possessions with masterful tip-backs to teammates. It wasn’t a big scoring day for MSS just like most of the team, but he made his presence felt. Also of note was Tyreek Smith. Tyreek put in some terrific minutes off of the bench. As much praise as Lon Kruger deservedly gets for creating matchups to favor his team, this was an advantage for Chris Beard. OU didn’t have an answer for Smith or anyone who matched up well against him in a larger role than usual. Tyreek had a tip-out or two of his own, and one of the best plays of the game featured Smith late in a shot clock in a one-on-one situation against an OU guard on the perimeter. The OU player first tried to get past him, but Tyreek kept in front of him. He tried to bait Smith into leaving his feet for the jump-into-him attempt to draw a cheap foul, but Tyreek didn’t bite. With no other option, a step-back three was attempted and partially blocked. Kruger had to have loved that matchup on paper, but Smith’s athleticism, discipline, and length as a defender triumphed.
Another player who continues to raise his game is Clarence Nadolny. There was a time early in this season in which it appeared Nadolny was buried on a deep roster and would only see time in games that were already decided. Clarence decided he wasn’t going to let that happen and has now posted quality minutes in several consecutive games during critical points of each matchup. He’s made a very good case for taking some of Burton’s minutes as Jamarius continues to underwhelm, and he’s not far off of challenging Peavy and even Kyler Edwards based on his play of late. It’s certainly understandable why Edwards stays out there as a very underrated defender who is capable of getting hot on the scoring end, but if Peavy’s offensive struggles continue, it will be tough to keep Nadolny on the bench when he brings more to the table there. Clarence is playing bigger than his frame defensively as well due to being extremely active and agile. Three rebounds in 15 minutes of action are nothing to sneeze at and speaks to him bringing some surprising elements to the floor. Shout out to Clarence for his hard work off the court that’s translating to good play on it.
Honestly, though, this wasn’t a pretty game to watch overall unless you’re a fan of good defense. Realistically, some of it was bad offense (although Tech was more than due to have an opponent not shoot well from the perimeter). Still, Tech winning a game in which McClung didn’t produce from the floor is huge in terms of the growth of the team, and sweeping OU is the sort of thing that will look great on a tournament resume. Tech now has a pair of top ten wins as a feather in its cap, and will likely find itself very much among the top ten themselves if they take care of business against a struggling KSU team on Saturday. The Red Raiders continue to develop into a team that could be beyond scary in the tournament. Tech’s free throw shooting has improved to where it’s no longer a liability, and it just won a game against a top 10 team in which the offense was largely a no-show. Deficiencies are being addressed, and the roster is rounding into form. Tech just won two games against extremely different teams in LSU and OU, which is the sort of thing that will take you a long way in March if it continues. Maybe this game wasn’t so ugly after all.