Call it the F*** Chris Beard Game.
Spurned fans of the No. 14 Texas Tech Red Raiders had the last cheers — and cheerful expletives — on Tuesday at United Supermarkets Arena, dominating the No. 23 Texas Longhorns in a decisive 77-64 victory in front of a capacity crowd featuring a student section that camped out for days in advance of Chris Beard’s return to the program he coached for five seasons.
In the first matchup between Beard and former assistant Mark Adams, the architect of the no-middle defense that vaulted the Red Raiders to within a play of the national championship three years ago, Adams came out on top.
His players, many of them transfers, were longer, more athletic, and more aggressive, proving why they’re the No. 4 defense nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, hounding the Longhorns to 14 turnovers with nine steals and seven blocked shots.
Transfer forward Bryson Williams, who played for Texas assistant Rodney Terry at Fresno State and UTEP, was arguably best and most physically dominant player on the court, scoring 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting with three offensive rebounds.
Beard recruit Kevin McCullar exemplified the Texas Tech mentality, crashing around the court on his way to 15 free throws, of which he made 12, a total number of attempts only four fewer than Texas took as an entire team after another first half of failing to reach the free-throw line. McCullar finished with a game-high 19 points and one of the hustle plays of the game when he barreled in for an offensive rebound with less than four minutes remaining.
Then there was Oral Roberts transfer Kevin Obanor, who used some friendly bounces on the homecourt rims to make two three-pointers during a crucial period of the second half. Facing a 14-point deficit at halftime, Texas battled to get back within seven points, but with the Texas Tech lead at eight, Obanor used a pump fake to get an open three in the corner with 10:49 remaining. It hit the front of the rim, then bounced in. A little more than two minutes later, a straightaway three hit the heel of the rim before falling through the nets.
Texas senior guard Courtney Ramey scored 12 points in the first half to keep the Longhorns from a truly disastrous start and senior guard Marcus Carr was much more aggressive in the second half with 13 points, including eight free-throw attempts.
But the frontcourt struggled to score around the basket against better athletes, Beard spent the first seven minutes substituting constantly in an effort to make up for a gameplan Texas apparently struggled to execute, and the defense consistently failed to defend without fouling and couldn’t stop Texas Tech around the basket. The Red Raiders took 30 free throws in the game and scored 30 points in the paint.
Texas Tech isn’t a particularly good shot-blocking team, but rejected two of the first seven attempts for Texas as the Horns only made two of those baskets — the Red Raiders were clearly intent on swarming the paint and making it difficult to score around the rim, especially with Beard using more lineups with senior forward Timmy Allen at the three. Allen was a focus, too, with Texas Tech sending multiple defenders at him early in the game, a hallmark of the no-middle defense against which Texas struggled to execute.
Between the second basket and the third basket, the Longhorns went three minutes without a basket, finally scoring on a steal and layup, but then gave up a three-pointer after allowing a layup on the previous defensive possession as the Red Raiders took a 15-7 lead. A steal and a layup by Texas Tech on a telegraphed pass from Courtney Ramey extended it to 10 points and then 12 points at the under-12 timeout. It was one of multiple times when Texas didn’t play with the necessary poise of awareness of the aggressive defense they were facing.
The Longhorns started 3-of-10 shooting with five turnovers while the Red Raiders scored 14 of their first 19 points from the free-throw line (four) or in the paint (10). Obanor was hot during the early going, scoring 11 points in the first 12 minutes for the Red Raiders, and Williams kept Texas from threatening the consistent Texas Tech lead in the first half, too.
By halftime, it was clear that the Longhorns needed some good luck and a major offensive surge to get back into it. The run never happened and Texas held a single lead the entire game at 5-4.
Right now, the unfortunate reality is that the Red Raiders are simply a better team and while the Longhorns can address issues like careless turnovers and aggressiveness attacking the basket on offense before the second half starts, they can’t fix deficiencies in length and athleticism.
And that means Texas Tech has a higher upside in the NCAA Tournament as Texas tries to get through this tough stretch of schedule with enough wins to secure a top-six seed.