In a hostile environment faced with a must-win game in hopes of keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns rose to the occasion and escaped Lubbock with a statement 68-58 win over the No. 22 Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Davide Moretti opened the action with a quick three on Tech’s second possession, only to see Kai Jones respond with much of the same on Texas’ next trip down — just Jones’ fifth three of the season. These two buckets would prove to be the only scoring prior to the under-16 media timeout, thanks in large part to a monster bucket-saving block by Royce Hamm Jr. that sent a Chris Clarke layup attempt into the stands.
Coming out of the break, Terrance Shannon Jr. immediately added to the scoreboard with and and-one opportunity over Kamaka Hepa, but unable to capitalize on back-to-back Texas turnovers, Tech once again saw its three-point lead erased courtesy of a three — this time from Andrew Jones.
The next time down, following a made free throw from TJ Holyfield, Jones attacked the rim and finished with a crafty reverse layup to provide the Horns with their first lead, 8-7.
In what would prove to be a perimeter themed first half for the Horns, Brock Cunningham was the next to connect from deep, with his conversion giving Texas a 11-9 lead. Only moments later following a Clarke layup to tie things at 11, Donovan Williams joined the action with a three of his of own, giving Texas a 14-11 edge entering the under-12 timeout. Cunningham connected on his second triple almost immediately coming out of the break, but Moretti answered with another three on the other end. Jones continued the back-and-forth action with a jumper, but a 7-0 Red Raiders run ensued behind five points and an assists from Jahmi’us Ramsey, giving Tech the 21-19 edge.
The lead didn’t last, though, as Will Baker become the latest Longhorn to connect from the perimeter. At this point, Texas held a 22-21 lead after sinking 6-of-12 three-point attempts, compared to only 2-of-3 from two. Moments later, a personal 4-0 run by Jones pushed Texas’ lead to 26-23, but it was essentially all Red Raiders throughout the final four minutes of the half.
Headlined by four free throws and a momentum-swinging three from Moretti, Texas Tech enjoyed a 9-0 run, which ultimately finished as a 14-4 run entering the break, with a three from Jones standing as the only effort of note for Texas. As a result of this 10-point swing, Texas entered the half trailing 37-30, despite 14 points from Jones and seven made threes.
Aside from Jones, Texas’ starting cast contributed only three first-half points, which came on Kai Jones’ early triple. Meanwhile, though Moretti shouldered the offensive load, Tech’s four other starters — Ramsey, McCullar, Kyler Edwards, and Holyfield — added 19 points.
Texas’ other starters did begin to contribute coming out of the intermission, though, and almost suddenly, between a pair of free throws from Courtney Ramey, a jumper from Matt Coleman, and an explosive and-one finish from Hamm, Texas trimmed a seven point lead to just one, 39-38. However, a Shannon three — only his ninth of the season — provided TTU with a bit of breathing room, 42-38, entering the under-16 media timeout. Less than a minute later, Shannon picked up where he left off with another jumper, though Jones quickly responded and trimmed the lead back to three with a left-handed finish at the rim.
Once again, it was Ramsey with an answer in the form of a layup to extend Tech’s lead to five, 46-41, but Ramey then answered that just seconds later with a contested three over the outstretched arm of Moretti. Texas’ next two trips, however, ended with back-to-back charge calls on Ramey — his being considerably questionable — and Baker.
The next points came following a Red Raider offensive rebound on an extended possession, as Edwards connected on a prayer from deep at the shot clock buzzer to push the lead back out to five, 49-44.
But then, some typically unsung heroes in Hamm and Cunningham paved the way for a Texas run. Hamm answered Edwards’ jumper with a hook shot, and on the ensuing possession, he utilized a beautiful spin move and finished at the rim for an and-one, though he missed what would gave been a game-tying free throw. Nevertheless, after swarming defense forced Tech into a shot clock violation, Hamm found Cunningham for a strong finish at the rim this time to recapture the lead, 50-40.
After yet another jumper from Shannon, Jones jumped back into the mix with a pull-up three, and suddenly, though the lead was only 53-51, things were trending almost entirely in Texas’ direction entering the critical final minutes.
That trend continued. Following a turnover from each team, Cunningham came away with a key steal that led to Hamm assisting Ramey on a jumper to cap an 11-2 run. With. Texas’ lead at four, 55-51, McCullar answered with another layup, but Jones’ hot hand continued as he finished with a tough right-handed finish of his own on the other end.
Texas took that 57-53 edge into the final media timeout, and then after forcing a TTU shot clock violation, Ramey’s leaning prayer from three was answered, extending the lead to 60-53 with just over two minutes remaining. In familiar fashion, Ramsey responded, wasting only a handful of seconds before finishing a layup. Then, after Hamm missed a tough layup look, McCullar passed up a wide open three and instead, cashed in by converting and and-one opportunity at the rim, pulling Tech to within a single score, 60-58, with 1:12 to play.
However, those would prove to be Texas Tech’s final points.
On the ensuing possession, Ramey missed a wild floater attempt, but Hamm finished with a soft put-back at the rim. Tech’s next possession essentially solidified the outcome for Texas, as Ramsey exploded to the rim for a dunk, but the attempt clanked off the rim for a long rebound, which sent Coleman streaking in for a fast break layup.
Just like that, Texas owned a six-point edge with 41 seconds remaining, and after Moretti’s three was nowhere near its mark, the Red Raiders were forced to foul, paving the way for two more points from Coleman to effectively seal a much-needed ranked conference road win over the Red Raiders.
Jones once again led the Longhorns with 22 points on an 8-14 shooting effort, including 3-of-8 from deep. Ramey was the only other Longhorn to join him in double figures with 12 points — all of which came in the second half. Hamm added nine points and six boards, while Cunningham played a key role in contributing eight points, five boards, and two steals off the bench.
According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Texas entered the afternoon among the Next Four Out. It’s safe to say Texas certainly helped itself in that regard on Saturday afternoon, capturing a fourth straight win and second consecutive ranked win. Now, after seemingly seeing the season completely fall apart just weeks ago, Texas is now one of the hottest teams in the conference at 18-11 and arguably controls its destiny the rest of the way with a Tuesday trip to Oklahoma and a home stand against Oklahoma State remaining.