Chris “The Culture” Beard said it best, the Red Raiders didn’t need to be better than the Louisville Cardinals, just better for 40 minutes.
And the Red Raiders were better. Significantly. For nearly all 40 minutes.
Beard knew going into Tuesday’s contest at Madison Square Garden the national spotlight would once again fall on the Red Raiders as it did against Duke a season ago, and despite last year’s result, Beard stuck with the same approach.
Last year, Tech hung with Duke through its grit and ability to draw charges against Zion Williamson and the talented, aggressive Blue Devil frontcourt. This year, it was that same toughness and ability to limit Louisville junior center Steven Enoch’s production in the paint that allowed the Red Raiders to not only hang with the Cardinals but to win outright.
Tech’s refusal to give up easy baskets combined with a pair of timely shots by Kevin McCullar sparked an 11-0 run for the Red Raiders midway through the first half, giving Tech a lead it wouldn’t surrender for the remainder of the game. Redshirt sophomore guard Avery Benson prevented Louisville from coming within one point of Tech with a clutch block on Lamarr Kimble’s layup attempt as time expired on the first half.
The Red Raiders had a more aggressive approach in the second half, attacking the basket and getting to the line at nearly three times the rate of the first half. A frustrated Louisville defense put Tech on the line 16 times in the second half alone, and the Red Raiders took full advantage of the opportunities behind junior guard Davide Moretti and freshman guard Terrance Shannon Jr.’s combined 11-12 free-throw shooting.
Tech’s record doesn’t accurately reflect this team’s potential. Sure, we as Red Raider fans probably have unrealistically high expectations of the team based on what Beard has accomplished in his three seasons in Lubbock, but we forget Moretti is the only returning starter on the squad. Sophomore guard Kyler Edwards played sparingly on last year’s team and Benson hardly got off the bench, and they still produced a meaningful impact against the top-ranked team in the nation. It just goes to show maybe some guys needed to be challenged in the absence of Jahmi’us Ramsey.
The Red Raiders beat the No. 1 team in the nation as an unranked team, and yes, don’t forget Tech did so without its top scorer. If the role players who elevated their game against Louisville can sustain that level of performance when Ramsey returns, a trip to the Final Four is not out of the question.