The national runner-up Texas Tech Red Raiders started their season off with a dominating victory over Eastern Illinois in front of a packed crowd. That sounds so satisfying given all the tough years this program has endured, but with a 48 game winning streak in non-conference home games it was more of what we have come to expect of this team.
The night started with the banners being revealed for both the Final Four appearance and Big 12 title from last season. The packed United Supermarkets Arena was extremely energized to begin the year, with this being the first season opener with more than 11,000 fans in attendance since the Chris Beard era began in 2016. The student section was shoulder-to-shoulder packed, which is a testament to a variety of incentives from the program designed to boost early season attendance. As a result of the full student section, Chris Beard will be attending a Tech student’s wedding AND providing Whataburger as catering.
Our first game of the season is Tues November 5. If the student section is 100% filled with 4500 students, I will be at your wedding and will provide Whataburger for everyone there.#4:1 https://t.co/Z6hx1xGLRp— Chris Beard (@CoachBeardTTU) August 3, 2019
On to the actual game:
T.J. Holyfield began his Texas Tech career with a bang, scoring the first four points of the game en route to an early 7-0 run by Tech. Eastern Illinois hung around through the first two media timeouts, at one point stringing together an 11-6 run to cut the lead to 15-13. Jahmi’us Ramsey scored his first career points as a Red Raider on a three, which then ignited a 17-7 run by the Red Raiders that stretched the lead to 32-20, with ten of those points coming from Ramsey. Eastern Illinois briefly cut the lead to 32-24 with five minutes left in the half but their run would be short-lived. Holyfield and high-flying freshman Terrence Shannon combined for nine straight points to stretch the lead 41-26. Ramsey would add another three increasing it to an 18 point margin, ending at a strong 15 before the half.
The Red Raiders started the second half slowly, but eventually put together a 31-14 run to extend the lead to 77-45. At that point most of the starters and key rotational members (The starting five of Kyler Edwards, Jahmi’us Ramsey, Davide Moretti, T.J. Holyfield, and Terrence Shannon Jr., along with Chris Clarke) came out in favor of a young lineup that included Clarence Nadonly, Kevin McCullar, Avery Benson, Andrei Sarasov, and Russ Tchewa. That group displayed some promise in garbage time despite getting slightly outscored. Eastern Illinois brought the final score back to 85-60, but the game was already decided midway through the second half. Tech will play Bethune Cookman next, which has a preseason Kenpom ranking in the 300s and is coming off a 14-17 season in the MEAC, which was arguably the worst conference in college basketball last season.
Game stats and story lines
- The freshmen looked outstanding last night. Jahmi’us Ramsey scored 19 points on 8-15 shooting and looked comfortable at all three levels offensively; somewhat surprising given his seemingly shaky perimeter offense. Terrence Shannon played with a ton of aggressiveness on both ends. That can be both good and bad, but last night it was good as he got to the free throw line multiple times and came through defensively. His game reminds me a lot of Zhaire Smith with a Niem Stevenson style aggressiveness. Shannon is not afraid to hunt for a shot while also playing stout defense.
- Speaking of Shannon: I was surprised he started over grad transfer Chris Clarke. Both will get lots of minutes this year but generally speaking Beard will roll with experience over youth early in the season. Ramsey and Shannon started game one, which had not occurred at any point under Chris Beard.
- T.J. Holyfield is the real deal. His range and driving ability makes him a lethal pick and roll option, and his interior defense is impressive for someone who is only 6-8. Sticking with the blending of two players from the 2017-18 team: Holyfield reminds me a lot of Zach Smith, but his shooting ability makes him a perimeter threat like Tommy Hamilton was. That’s a dangerous combination, folks.
- Davide Moretti continues to be an analytical God. I didn’t even notice him for much of the night, yet he drops an efficient 13 points on 89% TS percentage and a 190.5 offensive rating (easily the highest of any rotational member on the team). The Italian is the Robert Covington of the advanced stats college basketball world. You hardly notice him as a star until you look at the advanced box score and realize he was one of the three best players on the court. Moretti’s shooting is truly transcendent and yet his impact will still be overlooked by the majority of casual fans. You can mark my words on that one.
- The Red Raiders took 20 midrange shots, which equated to 34% of the total shots. I’d like to see that number be under 25%, but it’s not a big issue if they keep making them. Also, 16-23 at the rim is a great rate for game one of the season. Ramsey, Shannon, and Nadolny are all excellent finishers, and judging by game one this could be an incredible fast break team.
- The defense was excellent at certain points, however there were a few too many miscommunications and missed rotations. That will happen with a young team in game one of the year. Ramsey still had three steals individually, further proving the notion that Jahmi’us was one of the elite defenders in his class of prospects.
- It was great to see Kevin McCullar back in action. By my recollection he has not played in an organized game of basketball since the summer AAU/EYBL circuits of 2018. He looked rusty last night offensively, but the athleticism is still there and his defense looks like a real strength. It still looks like he will be a key part of the rotation once Big 12 play comes around, so getting him back into game shape is going to be crucial.
- Russ Tchewa looks like a man among boys right now. Off the top of my head the only three Big 12 players that can match him are Udoka Azibuke of Kansas and the West Virginia duo of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe. We probably will not see him much this year, but if he develops faster than expected? Look out.
- Ultimately, this team looks to be about what we expected from both a stylistic perspective and talent wise. There will undoubtedly be some growing pains that come with a team returning only three players, however these Red Raiders will be an extremely dangerous team come March.