Texas Tech did little to nothing right offensively in the first half. Fortunately for the Red Raiders, they put together an absolute masterclass in defense all game. Tech forced Utah State into committing 22 turnovers. Many of those came in the first half while the offense was sputtering. Beyond the turnovers, the Tech defense was stifling, and the Aggies looked discombobulated by it.
Utah State’s big star Neemias Queta was as advertised on both ends of the court. He is a polished big man who is a shot-blocking force, but his teammates struggled to match his efforts. The Red Raiders were well overdue for an opponent to have a poor shooting day from the perimeter. The Aggies obliged by going a dismal 4-19 beyond the arc to shoot only 21.1%. Still, nothing came easy for Utah State as Tech posted one of its best defensive games of the year.
Kevin McCullar led the defensive onslaught with another exceptional all-around effort. Considering how talented Neemias Queta is, McCullar and Marcus Santos-Silva teaming up to limit him to 11 points and only two offensive rebounds is a win. Queta did tally multiple blocks and owned the defensive glass. However, he wasn’t able to take over the game as many national pundits predicted he would with his size advantage.
Chris Beard is certainly one with a “size of the fight in the dog” mentality, and his roster undeniably came through there in this game. If that concept had a poster child, it’s hard to imagine a much better one than Clarence Nadolny here. Mac McClung struggled a bit early on to get open and on the defensive end, so Chris Beard pushed the right button by inserting Nadolny. Clarence made an immediate impact with his energy. Nadolny has developed toughness and fire this year which is making him difficult to keep off the court. It is infectious, and the team responded positively and went on a huge run from which the Aggies never recovered.
Better yet, Mac McClung also responded well to what was effectively a benching (albeit a temporary one). Many players, especially scorers, respond poorly to being taken out of the game and sulk. Mac maintained his team-first mentality and cheered hard as he rested. When he re-entered the game, he was the McClung Red Raider fans have come to expect. Terrence Shannon and Kyler Edwards also had very quiet first halves but showed out late to finish with productive days. Both hit big shots in key moments to keep the Aggies at bay.
Shout out to Micah Peavy as well, who posted a solid seven points and made some strong plays in the paint. Tyreek Smith only ended up playing a few minutes in this game, largely because Peavy, McCullar, and Santos-Silva held their own against Queta. Smith’s limited time is merely a testament to how well his teammates played against one of the best big men in the country. On paper, this looked like a matchup in which Santos-Silva could have been overwhelmed. Santos-Silva was up to the task and stayed very much out of foul trouble. Also of note, Jamarius Burton returned to his first action off of an injury. He had a nice bucket in the first half when points were hard to come by.
Tech’s offense was painful in the first half, but the Red Raiders won this game with defense, grit, and patience, which have all become hallmarks of Chris Beard basketball. The shots had to start falling for Tech at some point, and they did in the second half to seal the victory and send the Red Raiders to the second round. Overall, it was a good win against a team that was a popular “upset pick” for many. The Aggies played a great defensive game of their own and have a true star player, but they were not able to find answers against a borderline perfect defensive day from the Red Raiders. They say defense wins championships. It’s a huge part of Texas Tech’s identity and is the reason they’re one step closer to getting back to that championship game.