Ding dong, the witch is dead!
After a full 10-month wait, the Red Raiders finally got and seized their opportunity to beat Chris Beard and the visiting Texas Longhorns Tuesday night. It was, without a doubt, one of the biggest and most vindicating wins in the history of the program.
Kevin Obanor and his five three-point shots, Bryson Williams with his seven field goals, and Kevin McCullar with his game-high 19 points and 12 free-throws made all deserve shout-outs right off the bat. Terrence Shannon Jr, whose status for the game was uncertain due to lingering back injury, also deserves praise for his Willis Reed-Esque return to the court at the 11th hour.
The 77-64 triumph only counts as one win on the record sheet, but it means so much more to Tech fans.
If you’re reading this, you probably do not need me to remind you about how Beard coached the Red Raiders for five years, won 112 games here, took us all the way to the National Championship game in 2019, and then burned 99% of his bridges in Lubbock last April when he hopped on a plane to Austin.
It felt personal. How could it not? The savior of the program and disciple of the immortal Bobby Knight was jumping ship after five successful seasons to take over the arch-rival Texas Longhorns. With no warning and no goodbye, he hopped on his plane out of Lubbock and left an entire fanbase in the dust.
In the time since then, most of the Red Raider faithful, including myself, went through some form of the five stages of grief following his departure. Anger and depression were the first to hit me, personally, when I heard the news. Anger was clearly back in full force when the Longhorns arrived Monday night in Lubbock.
Bargaining and denial actually took place before we even knew the move was finalized. When the first rumors were reported last spring that Texas was interested in Beard, many were quick to dismiss the claims because, well, why would Beard want to leave a program that he had done so much for and had supported him so devotedly? It didn’t make sense to us.
After Shaka Smart’s departure was announced and many realized that Beard was, in fact, a Texas alum, the doubts started to trickle in. At one point, a slew of local businesses even came out with public offers of free services to Beard if the coach would return to the Red Raiders (bargaining). Sadly, it was not enough.
Without ever tipping his hand publicly, the news broke April 1st of last year that Beard would be taking his talents to Austin. The hopes that it was all a bad April fools joke (denial) did not last long.
I cannot tell you when acceptance finally occurred. Maybe it was when Tech took down undefeated No. 1 Baylor in early January. Maybe it was when we shocked No. 13 Tennessee at Madison Square Garden. Heck, maybe it was even when Mark Adams was announced as the next Head Coach. No one can know for sure, but it was not tonight.
Last night, if anything, was a new, ultra-rare sixth step that we’ll call “vindication”. Texas Tech proved to itself and to the nation once and for all that they did not need Chris Beard to succeed. Under Adams this year, the Red Raiders are a cool 17-5 overall and 6-3 in conference play. Not half bad for a team that many nationally gave up on the minute Beard walked out the door.
It’s hard to really blame the national media. Some teams take a while to recover from one great talent to the next. Check out the gap of quarterbacks between Jim Kelly and Josh Allen in Buffalo. Or even the coaches in between Pat Riley and Phil Jackson in Los Angeles. Likewise, it was easy to dismiss early confidence in Adams as blind loyalty. After all, there are still Titans and Raiders fans who claim Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr can lead them to a title when we all know that is not true. Truth is that it is not always easy to remain equally or more competitive following major turnover. But, somehow, the Red Raiders have done it.
Not only have they remained competitive, but they have done so in a convincing way that has them turning heads all across the nation. However, regardless of their success, there was always one lingering question: Can they beat Beard? By finally beating the Longhorns, we now no longer have any lingering questions regarding this team other than their ceiling. They can do it. They can beat Beard.
I’m not going to break down the specifics of Tuesday’s game here. I’ll leave that to the talented fellows at the Daily Toreador, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, and KLBK among others. I merely want to take note of the weight that has been lifted off of this season.
It reminds me of when Tom Holland’s Spider-man finally took down the sinister six a couple of months ago. It was a wild weekend for both parties facing a very particular foe, it was by no means a normal altercation, and now what’s done is done. For better or worse, all of the demons have been cured. Everything is in the past and only the future awaits. Now it’s back to being your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man…or in this case a friendly neighborhood Top-15 basketball program.
I admit, not a perfect metaphor, but I’m sticking to it. Don’t worry, there is only one more movie reference left in this article. I promise.
There will undoubtedly be some lingering hostility a few weeks from now when the Red Raiders and Longhorns go at it in Austin. Honestly, it will probably be there in some form every time Beard takes to the hardwood against Tech from here on out. But no game will ever again be quite like this one was for Tech.
This was a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. A perfectly unique four-day stretch from Saturday to Tuesday where students camped out, partied, got a visit from Ric Flair, received a plethora of free food and drinks from local vendors, and capped it all off with a win over the No. 23 Longhorns. Perfectly atypical, and perfectly Lubbock.
Makes you glad Coach Adams didn’t get on the plane, doesn’t it?
This win marks the Red Raiders’ fifth of the season against nationally-ranked opponents. They are currently ranked No. 14 nationally, one spot worse than they were a week ago thanks to a double-overtime loss to No. 5 Kansas. With the team playing well and the return of Beard in the rearview mirror, then, like Jake Taylor said in Major League, there’s only one thing left to do…