In the two games leading up to the Texas rematch, Keenan Evans had exploded in the second half to secure a Texas Tech win. Against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, he scored 22 points on 67% shooting in just the second half. In the SEC/Big 12 challenge against South Carolina he scored eight of the team’s final nine points. The senior was beginning to look like a leader not just due to his experience, but because of his abilities in the clutch. For the rest of the season, if the Red Raiders needed a final shot, that was going to be taken by Evans. Little did we know that exact situation would come this week as the team attempted to redeem an earlier loss against Texas.
The two clutch wins for Texas Tech had earned them a spot back in the AP Top 10. If they wanted to remain there, they would need to secure revenge against the Longhorns. In the earlier match up, the Red Raiders shot an abysmal 25.9% from three-point range. The deep ball had been a struggle since the start of the season and it’s what cost them that game. Their defense was good, holding Texas to just 67 points. Despite the impressive defense, Texas Tech only scored 58 points, a huge margin of 16.6 points less than their end-of-season average. Jarrett Culver led the team in scoring with 16 off the bench. Culver had now secured himself as a starter and was coming off a 25 point showing just two games ago. Kerwin Roach II — who was cleared to play coming out of tunnel — led the Longhorns with 20 off the bench. Freshmen Mohammed Bamba and Matt Coleman were looking better game by game. Now, exactly two weeks since the teams first met, the Red Raiders would need to stop that trio and have a better night offensively if they wanted a home win.
With Mo Bamba winning the tip, the game was underway. Neither team managed to take a large early lead. Each side traded baskets, including an Evans drive and dunk.
Tied at 16 with just under ten minutes left in the half, Bamba was never switched off Evans after defending him on the inbound pass. Now with the ball at the top of the key, Evans took advantage of the slower defender, driving to the basket and scoring through a foul.
As the Longhorns switched into a zone defense, Zhaire Smith attacked the middle to free up a shooter. The defense rotated well onto Evans in the corner but he still managed to knock down a difficult, off-balance three.
Texas Tech now led by six with just over a minute until the break. After receiving a brush screen from Odiase, Evans got the ball on the wing. His first quick step easily beat Jacob Young to the rim. With the help of his unextended arm-bar, Evans had an easy layup.
The Red Raiders had an impressive first half on both ends of the floor and went into halftime with a 36-29 lead. Texas Tech was executing their game plan to perfection. After shooting 60% from the field and getting to the line effectively, Evans headed into the break with 17 points. The defense held Bamba and Coleman to just five total points. All that was needed now was to keep executing for 20 more minutes. If the Red Raiders could stave off a second half push from the Longhorns, they could secure their revengeful win.
Evans opened up the scoring in the second half after exploiting yet another mismatch. If the Longhorns continued to switch Bamba onto him, it was clear that Evans would get an easy layup every time.
Just a minute later, Evans got the favorable switch again. With Bamba realizing how Evans was repeatedly beating him to the basket, he back peddled away from Evans, anticipating a drive. This gave Evans plenty of room to knock down a three, and now the Red Raiders had stretched their lead to 12.
It was clear now that these switches were no mistake. Chris Beard was engineering the offense, imputing ball screens that forced Texas’ big men to switch onto guards. This time Dylan Osetkowski, the shorter but heftier of the Longhorns big men, got the switch onto Evans. As Evans began attacking the basket, he quickly stepped back, freeing himself for a wide open mid-range jumper.
Evans now had three buckets in the first three minutes of the second half. It looked like he was hitting his clutch second gear to win the game. Suddenly — Evans disappeared. Those three field goals would be the only ones he made that entire half. As Evans vanished from the score board, the Longhorns began to rally. Eric Davis Jr. made his only two three-point field goals in the game within 45 seconds of each other. With just over six minutes left, the Red Raiders turned the ball over and Texas tied the game at 55.
As the game continued on, it was obvious this would end up being a one possession game. The Longhorns had the ball with under 30 seconds to go. They placed the ball in the hands of Osetkowski who put a great a move on Odiase and freed himself for a hook shot, but left it short. Smith grabbed the rebound and Evans brought the ball up the court. With under ten seconds left, the offense did what it had done all game: Odiase screen, get a mismatched switch onto Evans. It worked. Bamba was now guarding Evans, something that hadn’t fared well for Texas all game. When Kerwin Roach Jr. brought a double team seemingly out of nowhere, Evans attacked.
And then, whistle.
Bamba had fouled Evans on his way to the rim, fouling out of the game. Despite drawing a blank on his shot attempts, Evans still managed to get to the line and put points on the board. He was a perfect seven-for-seven at the stripe in the second half. Now, with his team down by one and just three seconds on the clock, he had a chance not just to tie the game, but to win it. The Longhorns called their final timeout before the free throws to game plan. When both teams broke out of their huddles and Evans got to the line, you could have heard a pen drop in the student section. Evans prepared for his first shot.
Just like that, the Red Raiders had escaped defeat but failed to win.
Similar to the second half, Evans opened up the scoring. Even without forcing a switch, he used his quick first step to beat Roach II to the basket.
Just 30 seconds later, after a great defensive possession led by Jarrett Culver, an identical play was ran. Before they could even run the play, an off-ball foul was committed that sent Evans to the line for two free throws. He’d sink them both.
There was now less two minutes to go. The Longhorns needed a bucket and they’d get one. As Culver went to help in the post, he left Roach wide open behind the arc. The ball would find it’s way back to him and he’d nail the triple.
As the Red Raiders made their way down the court, Texas committed yet another costly foul. As Odiase went up for a dunk, Royce Hamm Jr. flew through the air and committed the shooting foul. Odiase, a 56.7% career free throw shooter, went to the line in an attempt to push the lead to two possessions. Unfortunately, the first one hit the back of the rim. He redeemed himself on the second, but it remained only a three point lead with a minute to go.
The Longhorns offense looked stuck. The clock quickly drained as their offense stood around waiting for something to free up. Eventually, Roach II had to take a tough pull up three. He missed it. With 50 seconds left, Texas Tech just had to drain the clock and get an easy look inside. Unfortunately that look never came. A sudden double team forced Evans to take a tough three point shot with seven seconds still on the shot clock. He missed it, and Texas could tie with less than 30 to go.
As Roach drove to the lane in an attempt to get an easy one and eventually go two-for-one, Zhaire Smith smacked it off the backboard. Texas somehow got the rebound and had yet another chance. As the clock crept towards ten seconds left, Roach threw up a prayer with Keenan Evans right in his face to try and tie the game. He’d bank it off the glass and in. Chris Beard chose not to use one of his three timeouts, and the Red Raiders in-bounded the ball. As Keenan Evans brought the ball up, the play was obvious: get the hell out of his way and let him win the game.
Just like that, it was over. Keenan Evans had hit one final shot, the cherry on top of his career-high 38 point night. He had now secured himself as not only one of the most beloved Red Raiders of all time, but also one of the most reliable. In only their second year with a new head coach, Texas Tech had every reason to be struggling. The program had no business getting anywhere near the Top 25, let alone frequent the Top 10. Fans had every reason to not buy in, to stay at home on those cold winter nights. Yet — there they were. The city of Lubbock was seeing a revitalization: a love for the game of basketball. It was clear Kirby Hocutt had chosen someone great, someone legendary to lead Texas Tech’s basketball program. That leader had a very special player helping turn the program around with him. After Keenan Evans hit that shot, he took to the podium and shared his heart:
“In that moment, I wanted to be the man for our team,” Evans said while describing his mindset before taking the final shot. “[Coach Beard] is always on me about, `Don’t be afraid of the moment. Go be the man,” the senior guard said.
He was the man. For that game, season and beyond, he would be the cornerstone of change that this program was already going through.