And then there were eight. As in eight teams left in the NCAA Tournament. For the first time in program history, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are one of the eight, the Elite Eight.
No. 3 seed Texas Tech continued to shock most of the college basketball “experts” with a 78-65 victory over Purdue in Boston in the Sweet Sixteen. Tech had lost all five of their previous trips to the regional semifinals. That streak ended Friday night.
They used their signature, aggressive defense to hold Purdue to their third lowest offensive output of the season. The defense was also responsible for forcing Purdue into 17 turnovers, which was their second highest total of the season. In all honesty, it also helped that Purdue was without 7’2 senior center Isaac Haas because of a dislocated elbow.
The game began with the customary sluggish start by the Red Raiders. The Boilermakers, however, started off like they came to play. Purdue began the game by taking advantage of the presence of 7’3 redshirt freshman forward Matt Haarms, playing in place of Haas, by pounding the ball inside. Purdue made it to the first time out at the 15:25 mark with an 11-6 lead with all points coming from close range except for a three by sophomore guard Carsen Edwards.
The next thirteen-plus minutes was, as one announcer called it, a rock fight. A rock fight which included more than a full seven minutes in which neither team scored. Tech would eventually endure the scoring struggle and take their first lead of the game at 26-25 on a second consecutive jumper from Justin Gray with 2:08 left in the first half. They would go on to close out the half on a 10-0 run and lead 30-25. Tech would never trail for the rest of the game.
Purdue would get a considerable scare in the half as Haarms appeared to injure his right elbow on an awkward fall in the paint. It was just a stinger but the main concern was it was the arm he uses to adjust his hair. As you can see, TBS actually kept track of the adjustments.
Coach Chris Beard stated the obvious when he said he liked the defensive effort of the half but needed to figure it out on offense. Justin Gray led the way for Tech in the first half with eight points and five rebounds. They shot 12 of 28 from the field including 2 of 9 from three.
In the second half, Tech turned up the defense, which I didn’t think was possible. The pace of play was much quicker but they still only had a five point lead, at 39-34, at the first media timeout at 15:17. The pace seemed better, but the points still weren’t easy.
The back and forth struggle continued for the next ten minutes until Tech went on an 11-0 run beginning at the 5:27 mark and ending at 1:59. The run was fueled by none other than Keenan Evans. Evans had seven points and an assist during the three-and-a-half minute stretch. Tech held a 14 point lead and it was all over but the crying for Purdue.
Tech was led once again by Evans with 16 points and four assists. In customary fashion, he had 12 in the second half when the team really needed them. He also dished out four assists to tie Tommy Hamilton IV for the team lead. Justin Gray chipped in 12 points and a team leading seven rebounds.
The Red Raiders further confirmed the strength of this team is in numbers. Nine different players scored including four in double figures. The bench also outscored the Boilermakers bench 33-6.
Carsen Edwards led the way for Purdue and it really seemed at times as if he was going to win the game by himself. Edwards poured in 30 points on 11 of 20 from the field including 4 of 9 from three. He was also 4 for 4 from the free throw line. They also received a 12 point and 13 rebound effort from Vincent Edwards.
The next step for Tech is, of course, the Elite Eight and a date with No. 1 seed Villanova. Villanova used a late run to outbattle West Virginia in the other region semifinal game, 90-78. The game is scheduled for Sunday at 1:20 p.m.