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The Morning Dish – Sunday, January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018 Columns No Comments

Texas Tech and West Virginia have been arguably the two best defensive teams in the country this year, and they’ve done so in completely different ways, another supreme example of the variety of college basketball that helps make the sport so captivating.

The Mountaineers’ press and the Red Raiders’ pack-it-in, always-hustling halfcourt D are not just effective but as much fun to watch as any defenses in the country. As important as defense is to both teams, though, it was offense which ended up making the difference in their top-10 matchup on Saturday. And despite being quiet for long stretches of the game, it was Tech’s that was better in crunch time as the Red Raiders rallied for a huge 72-71 win in Lubbock.

Texas Tech trailed 47-36 with less than 13 minutes to play but came alive late, scoring almost as many points in the game’s final 12:43 (35) as it did in the first 27-plus. Keenan Evans-an unsung star of this season nationally who isn’t going to remain unknown for much longer-scored 20 in the game, including a huge jumper in the final minute. Supersub Brandone Francis added 17 with fearless play off the bench, and the Red Raiders also took advantage of the inevitable fouls piling up against the Mountaineers and their heavy pressure defense, hitting 24 of 28 free throws.

Despite struggling for long stretches, Chris Beard’s Red Raiders overcame a buffet of turnovers in the first half and light shooting from long range (4 of 15) to hit 50% for the game and do enough to win. It was a gritty effort on both ends against a West Virginia team that for long stretches looked ready to justify its No. 2 ranking coming in.

The Mountaineers controlled this game for long stretches, with the Red Raiders struggling mightily to inbound the ball after WVU baskets. Jevon Carter was spectacular with 28 points, looking every bit worthy of the national player of the year contender buzz that has built of late.

Ultimately, though, it was the times when West Virginia wasn’t scoring that was the problem. The Mountaineers went through long dry spells in both the first and second halves (three points over more than eight minutes in the first half; 11 points over the first 10 minutes of the second), and it offset the good work they did in leading almost the entire first half and well into the second. When not making baskets, West Virginia was unable to set its press that resulted in so much trouble for the Red Raiders, and it was the difference in the game.

As badly as WVU wanted to win this game, though, Texas Tech needed to win it. That’s life in the cutthroat Big 12 this year, where a top 20-caliber team like TCU is now 1-4 in conference play. It is absolutely critical for teams to take care of business at home. And though they took a roundabout route to it, the Red Raiders did it Saturday.

Side Dishes:

  • Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki has his Saturday Notes with nuggets on all of the day’s biggest games.
  • The top performances from the day included too many big individual showings to count. None was bigger than Chandler Hutchison of Boise State scoring 44 points in the Broncos’ 83-80 win over San Diego State. Oklahoma’s Trae Young scored 43 and added 11 rebounds in the Sooners’ 102-97 overtime win over TCU. Roosevelt Smart of North Texas scored 42 and hit a school-record nine three-pointers in the Mean Green’s 85-78 win at Rice.
  • More biggies: Michael Oguine of Montana hit a career high with 39 in the Grizzlies’ 92-89 victory at Portland State. Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s and Tyus Battle of Syracuse both scored 37 points in their teams’ respective losses to Villanova and Florida State, and Averyl Ugba of Austin Peay tallied 35 points plus 11 rebounds in the Governors’ surprising 87-67 blowout of Jacksonville State.

Today’s Menu:

  • A very light day starts with a good one in the Metro Atlantic, as two of the three tri-leaders meet with Rider at Iona. Expect points: the Gaels are well-known as annually one of the best offensive teams in the country, but the Broncs actually are outscoring them, averaging over 83 points per game with five players scoring in double figures. This one deserves to be on TV.
  • Boston University shares the Patriot lead with Bucknell, and the Terriers stay in state to face Holy Cross.
  • The first television game of the day is a worthy one as Army and Navy meet for the 128th time (2:30 p.m., CBSSN). These two played a pair of classics last year, with Navy winning in overtime at West Point and Army coming back from 25 down to win in Annapolis.
  • An Atlantic 10 doubleheader on NBC Sports Network starts with Davidson at Fordham (3 p.m.), with Saint Joseph’s at Massachusetts to follow (5 p.m.).
    Northwestern looked good last time out against Minnesota…but Gophers are absolutely reeling right now? We’ll get at least a slightly better idea of the Wildcats when they play at up-and-down Indiana (4:30 p.m., CBS).
  • North Carolina State tries for another big-time scalp, maybe its biggest yet if it can win on the road at Virginia (6 p.m., ESPNU)
  • Ohio State puts its undefeated mark in the Big Ten on the line at Rutgers, which has shown the ability to periodically give biggies a hard time (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • The night wraps up in the Pac-12 with stubborn Utah at USC (8 p.m., ESPNU).

Have a terrific Sunday.

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