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Texas Tech overcomes shaky starts to win both Las Vegas Invitational campus games

The Red Raiders were challenged by Tennessee State and LIU before pulling away late in both games

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since there’s been a team this young in Lubbock, and it showed this past weekend. The last four years have featured at least two senior starters on every team, and this is the first time we’ve seen a freshman start from game one at Tech since Norense Odiase in 2014. Obviously Jahmi’us Ramsey and Terrence Shannon have started every game thus far, however the bigger factor in this team’s inexperience is arguably the lack of experience from the upperclassmen on the roster. Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield haven’t played since the end of 2018, while both Kyler Edwards and Davide Moretti spent their freshman years as spot rotation members. The result is a team that still plays with some disconnect, however the team is going to be lethal when everything clicks.

On to the recaps:

Since I was unable to write a recap for the Tennessee State game, I will start with a brief overview of that game. Specific game notes can be found here

Texas Tech initially looked like a team that was going to dominate against Tennessee State. They opened on a 10-1 run, however that was stunted due in large part due to two early T.J. Holyfield fouls. Tech struggled to get anything going in the motion offense without Holyifeld, and only put up 17 points over the final 15 minutes of the half. TSU briefly had a chance to take the lead on two separate possessions early in the second half, however Davide Moretti went on a personal 8-0 run (reminiscent of Matt Mooney in the Final Four vs. Michigan State) to give the Red Raiders a double digit lead that they would never relinquish. Tech won 72-57, with a 45 point second half explosion being in large part due to Moretti’s 19 points. Tech had only ten assists on 17 made baskets, meaning ball movement was not at the level we saw in the first three games.

Jahmi’us Ramsey went 0-6 from behind the arch and only 4-13 overall, making it easily his worst game as a Red Raider. Kyler Edwards struggled shooting but was an integral part of the success on both ends, as I mentioned in my game notes. Ultimately, Tennessee State was a really gritty team that gave Tech some fits, but the weaknesses exposed in the TSU game (mainly over-rotation on defense and settling for off-dribble looks on offense) will play dividends going forward.

LIU game:

Long Island came out scorching from deep, led by former child prodigy Jashaun Agosto. Tech matched the Sharks, but that wasn’t enough for Red Raider Nation. The early part of the game featured a lot of interior motion cut based schemes, which were effective but also caused some messy possessions and turnovers. Davide Moretti was an extremely smooth presence, as he put up eight in the first half despite being the focal point of LIU’s aggressive perimeter defense. LIU kept hitting shots that were mainly off skip passes and pull up looks, and the result was a close game towards the end of the first half. Jahmi’us Ramsey missed the back end of a trip to the free throw line, which let LIU have a chance to take the lead into half. They did just that off another long three from Agosto, making them 7-12 from long range (58%) in the half.

Then the freshman took over.

Jahmi’us Ramsey had the best half of his young Tech career, with Terrence Shannon and Kevin McCullar also coming alive. The trio had 38 of Tech’s 55 second half points, led by Ramsey scoring 18 of his 27 in the half. Long Island went cold from deep, making just three of their 12 attempts in the second half and only scoring 24 points in total. The Red Raiders gradually pulled away to the point where they somehow covered the 24 point spread in a 96-66 win. The 55 point second half marked the second 50 point half of the year. The 96 points was the third highest point total in the Chris Beard era. The win moves Tech to 5-0 on the year and sets up a four game stretch in which the Red Raiders will be playing away from Lubbock on national tv, starting in Las Vegas with the Iowa game on Thanksgiving.

Game Stats and Storylines (LIU game)

  • I made this point in my Twitter notes after the Tennessee State game, but Kyler Edwards is so important to this team’s success. His poor shooting has caused some fans on social media to discuss possibly benching him, however in watching film of the offense you’ll realize that Edwards is a major catalyst on both ends. Offensively, he is easily the best primary ball handler in P&R sets, which is a large part of the action that Beard wants to run with Holyfield and Shannon being great cutters. Defensively, his defensive rotations and quickness make him our best passive defender. Passive defender sounds like a bad term, but in reality it’s a valuable piece in the Mark Adams philosophy. He doesn’t create havoc like Jahmi’us Ramsey, but he’s constantly in the right spot to seal off drives and prevent open lanes. If you want quantifiable justification as to how Edwards has been important: just look at his A/TO ratio and net rating. Edwards has a 4.4/1.8 ratio, which is the best on the team, and his NET RTG is in the same category as Ramsey, Moretti, and Clarke.
  • Davide Moretti scores 12 points on six shots and we act like it’s an average display for the man. Carry on. Davide will keep dropping performances with a TS% higher than most free throw percentages around the country, and will do so without ever breaking out of the flow of the offense. The man is incredible. His ORTG over the last 30 games is now over 130, which means he’s gone an entire season with an average game in the 99th percentile for offensive efficiency. That’s pretty good for a player who is still not considered one of the best offensive players in the nation.
  • I’m beginning to think Jahmi’us Ramsey is one of the best PLAYERS in the nation, not just offensively but also defensively. People will naturally compare him to Jarrett Culver but Ramsey is completely different. His defense is much more havoc based, a la Matt Mooney, and his offense is reliant on athleticism to some degree. Ramsey’s shooting has been a huge surprise thus far, as he’s hit over 50% of his threes and has a TS% of 63. The easiest comparison to make for Jahmi’us would be Keenan Evans, however he has generational athleticism that Keenan did not have. Stylistically speaking their games are very similar. Ramsey will need to improve his playmaking ability to compensate defenses taking away his off-dribble game, which will happen at times. You can’t teach natural talent, and Jahmi’us has that in bunches.
  • Terrence Shannon has really improved his cutting in the last three games. His slashing ability will never be questioned, but it’s the off-ball ability that will give him consistent touches in this offense. As time goes on I expect Shannon to really grow as a facilitator due to his natural ability as a primary ball handler, however right now he’s essentially the fourth or fifth best passer on the team, which will inherently limit his opportunities off the dribble.

With that being said, Shannon is on the court a lot for his defense. His ability to defend 1-4 has not gone unnoticed, and his lateral quickness is very similar to what we saw from Zhaire Smith. He does not have the vertical of Zhaire, but his well-rounded athleticism allows him to have both the quickness to stop point guards in on-ball defense, and the leverage to defend inside against taller players. He makes some typical freshman mistakes on rotations, but by the end of the year I will not be surprised if Terrence Shannon becomes our most well rounded defender.

  • Chris Clarke is currently the player that I have the most trouble figuring out. His playmaking is a huge positive, as he’s shown an ability to make some really creative passes from the interior. That fits the perimeter oriented personnel that Beard has, and against teams such as Baylor that run a zone it will be vital to have someone in the middle that can make plays. His defense has also been solid, if unspectacular. The flip side is his aggressiveness and style on offense. Clarke has struggled to get his own shot, and his turnovers are a huge issue for how often he handles the ball. His turnover percentage (28%) is higher than any rotation player Beard has used in his four years at Tech, and most of his turnovers come from defenses simply funneling him into a situation where he has to make a tough pass or risk getting his dribble stolen. It will be fascinating to see how Beard utilizes him this year.
  • Kevin McCullar played his best game as a Red Raider. I’m high on his defense and ball handling, both of which will earn him an easy rotation spot as a wing/guard hybrid.
  • The unselfishness of this team is a breath of fresh air from the early parts of last year. Tech is averaging the most assists per game in the country right now. While this is partially due to an increase in tempo from the past few years, it also has to do with the performance of players in the motion offense. The ball movement is largely stemming from guys getting easier opportunities off ball, which is sustainable going forward. This offense probably won’t have many games scoring under 65 like last year’s team.