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Texas Tech races past Oklahoma State in Big 12 opener

The Red Raiders used suffocating defense and efficient shooting to pull away from Oklahoma State in an 85-50 win

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech came into today’s Big 12 opener with a lot of questions about their young team; they exited with plenty of answers.

The Cowboys entered the match-up at 9-3, with all three losses coming without star point guard Isaac Likekele, who is arguably the best pure defender in the conference. Guards Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters are two of the best shooters in the country, and both torched the Red Raiders in the game in Lubbock last year. Waters hit four threes in the final minute to send the game into overtime, and without Davide Moretti’s heroics on the free throw line, there’s a good chance Tech would’ve dropped that game to the streaky Cowboys.

Thankfully, this game did not need any late game heroics. The two squads traded shots early on. Initially it was Tech getting out to a 4-0 lead through two paint baskets from TJ Holyfield and Kyler Edwards, then it was Oklahoma State going on a 12-1 run to make it an eight point lead. The Red Raiders would hit a few more shots (specifically TJ Holyfield hitting a three and getting involved underneath) to draw back even at 18. From there the two teams played through a short shootout phase, which was capped by a 9-0 Texas Tech run that put them ahead 34-26. Tech would keep that momentum until the break, where they led 36-30.

The second half started with a quick Oklahoma State bucket at the hands of Lindy Waters. It would be six minutes before they scored again. Tech took advantage of their offensive inefficiency and sprung a 15-0 run, capped by three straight triples from Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey. Oklahoma State would never come within 18 points of the lead again, as the Red Raiders went on another large run, this time 18-3, to take a 76-41 lead. At that point Beard started rotating out the starters, and we got to see the freshman for both teams get some run. Kevin McCullar and Clarence Nadolny each scored some points, with the former having a brief 7-0 run to give the Red Raiders a 37 point lead. Oklahoma State would break the 50 point barrier in the final minute, but Tech still won by 35 points, marking their largest ever victory in a Big 12 game.

Jahmi’us Ramsey led the squad with 18 points, while TJ Holyfield had his best game in over a month with 17 points, seven rebounds, and three crucial blocks. Terrence Shannon had 13 points in only 17 minutes of action before he fouled out. Davide Moretti had 13 points and five assists, proving my pregame notion that he was needed as a primary ball handler right.

Lindy Waters led the Cowboys with 13 points, and was the only player to score for them in the first 13 minutes of second half action (He had eight points, the rest of the team went 0-10 in that time-frame). Isaac Likekele was held to his worst offensive outing of the season with only two points on 1-6 shooting and two assists. Oklahoma State had only six assists as a team, with only two of those coming after half.

Game Stats and Storylines

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
  • That was probably the best second half of basketball that I’ve ever seen a Chris Beard coached Texas Tech team play, and that is saying something considering how Beard has developed a reputation for specifically making halftime adjustments. Literally every swing skill went Tech’s way in the second half. They boxed out a lot better (only two offensive rebounds in the second half for OSU compared to eight in the first half), utilized more motion cuts in the offense, and rotated a lot quicker to shooters. Some of Oklahoma State’s horrendous offensive play was due to shooting variance, but a lot of it was a result of a visibly tougher Texas Tech squad.
  • Jahmi’us Ramsey was not used in his typical role today. He adopted a much more off-ball oriented position today, and it essentially made his life much easier. All but three of his eleven shots were spot-up looks, and almost all of his dribbling came in non-PBH based plays. The offense came to Ramsey, but it was not ran through him as we saw in some recent games. This was likely a result of scheming around Isaac Likekele, who drew Ramsey for most possessions. Last year Tech did a similar thing in Stillwater, which resulted in Moretti running the offense and Culver hitting a few spot up threes.
  • Speaking of Moretti: this was probably his best game as a primary ball handler since that eight assist game in Stillwater last season. His three point shot still isn’t going down at a high clip (though he hit a beautiful one off a P&R look), but his “gravity” allows a lot of open looks for shooters such as Ramsey and Kyler Edwards. Another 150+ ORTG game for Davide, and another game where he was probably the most impactful player on the floor from a spacing perspective. He opens up so much for the offense simply being out there, and when both him and Jahmi’us are out there it makes life extremely difficult for a defense that can’t force turnovers.
  • Edwards still has not had a game where he’s played a facilitator role and also shot well. He had a great game running the offense, having four assists with no turnovers, but going 0-5 from three is never a good thing. He did get to the foul line and generally was effective when driving against Dziagwa and Waters, but it’s hard to call him a huge positive when the shot is not falling. Beard might be wise to play Edwards more off ball in order to get some more open looks for him, but doing so would probably limit his playmaking ability, which is arguably the best on the team. It is a tough decision to make, and one that makes me glad I don’t coach these guys.
  • Watching Chris Clarke is an experience. I’ve come around to him being a net positive to the team, and some of my criticism from early on in the year was largely stemming from him being such an unconventional player, but there is no doubting his creativity offensively. He is not really a set-based playmaker, but his court vision is absurd for somebody that mainly plays on the low block, and it certainly generates open looks both on the interior and beyond the arch. His style is effective when he’s aggressive, though his high dribble gets him in some trouble when he drives against longer defenders. His rebounding is impressive offensively, but he fails to box out way too frequently for my liking. He grabs a lot of boards from simply being aggressive to the ball, but at least three of McGriff’s offensive rebounds were directly from Clarke not boxing out. He’s a great positional defender, but his off-ball awareness can sometimes be frustrating to watch. There are so many positives and so many negatives, but I’ve just accepted it. He’s Chris Clarke, and I am glad he is on this team.
  • Terrence Shannon had a great game, even with some unfortunate foul trouble. A few of his fouls were the result of minor positional mistakes, but as a whole his minutes were extremely productive on both ends. He neutralized McGriff’s offensive game, and his ability to move off ball finally led to a host of underneath opportunities. Shannon’s offensive rebounding and cutting ability is very Zhaire Smith esque, and while I doubt he has the playmaking that made Smith so popular among NBA scouts, it would not surprise me if he was out of Lubbock in the next two years. His versatility on defense is an absolute life-saver on this team, as it makes switching 1-4 a lot more viable when the starters are on the floor.
  • Holyfield had his best game of the year. He was efficient offensively, assertive defensively against Onei, and only committed two fouls. His positioning defensively was arguably the biggest factor in keeping Likekele in check, as almost every drive was cut off before the strong point guard could get to the rim. We need this version of Holyfield to be present at every game, as beyond him there is nobody else on the team that can be a passable interior defender consistently.
  • All six primary rotation players had an ORTG over 100, which is incredible for a major conference game. A quick scan of Barttorvik shows me that this happened only twice last year, once versus TCU and once in the blowout win over Kansas. The ball movement was really neat to watch, and at times even a little excessive. Transition is probably the one area where this team needs to be a little more conservative in making passes, as at least three positive breaks were stopped as a result of over-rotations. Those are growing pains that should be better come March, and the pieces are there for this team to be great in transition.
  • At this point I think Tech is running a six man rotation with occasional scenario based substitutions. No player outside of the starting five and Clarke had more than ten minutes, and none of the bench players seem consistent enough to warrant a spot in the rotation. This is subject to change, as we saw in 2018 Moretti go in and out of the rotation, and in 2019 Kyler re-gained a spot in the rotation over the course of the tournament. The six man primary rotation means an injury would be devastating, but ultimately playing six consistently is probably more effective than playing eight just for the purpose of having a “full” rotation.
  • The Red Raiders will be back in action on Tuesday against a very athletic Baylor team that will be a top five team barring an upset. That game will be a great test to see how strong Tech is, and a win probably puts this team right in the fight for a conference title.