Tuesday’s matchup between No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas Tech was a showdown of two of the top guards not only in the Big 12 but in all of college basketball, with freshman Trae Young facing off against senior Kennan Evans.
Evans won the duel, but it was a collective effort that saw Chris Beard’s Red Raiders move one step closer to their first conference regular season title since its first the 1995-96 season with an 88-78 win.
How long has it been since Texas Tech last won a regular season conference title?
The Big 12 had yet to begin play. The Red Raiders won the last Southwest Conference title before the merger with the Big 8.
Not only did Evans outscore Young, finishing with 26 to the freshman’s 19, but he also produced in a much more efficient manner. Evans shot 9-for-15 from the field, and while he finished the game with just two assists, the senior only turned the ball over once. Young’s night was much more difficult, as he shot just 4-for-16 from the field and missed all nine of his three-point attempts.
If not for his going 11-for-11 from the foul line, Young’s night — and that of the Sooners by extension — could have been even worse. The freshman did manage to dish out seven assists, but his struggles from deep contributed to the Sooners shooting just 7-for-22 from beyond the arc. Texas Tech shot 11-for-21 from three, shooting much better than it has throughout the course of the season (35.1 percent 3PT).
Young’s in the midst of a brutal shooting slump from three. He’s just 7-for-41 over the last four games and has now missed 16 in a row. Giving the freshman the freedom to make plays is critical for Oklahoma, but if he’s off it puts the Sooners in a tough spot. Against Texas Tech, others did step forward, most notably Christian James who scored a team-high 23 points, but it still wasn’t enough.
There’s certainly talent on Lon Kruger’s roster, and they’ll hopefully see Kristian Doolittle get into some kind of a groove down the stretch as he works his way back after missing the first semester.
But as Trae Young goes so go the Sooners, and it’s no coincidence that the team’s four-game skid has coincided with him going cold from three.
While the production of Evans and Young had a significant impact on the outcome, the overriding factor was Texas Tech’s approach on both ends of the floor. For much of the night Chris Beard’s team was patient offensively, working for the shots it wanted to take as opposed to allowing Oklahoma’s defense to dictate what they would do. Defensively they got after the Sooners, using a solid man-to-man for much of the night with a trap once the freshman crossed half-court to get the ball out of Young’s hands down the stretch mixed in for good measure.
That’s been the way the Red Raiders have played throughout the season. Texas Tech knows who it is and what is the most effective way to attack opponents, and rarely have they deviated from the identity that they’ve developed. There’s certainly experience on the roster, led by Evans with the likes of Niem Stevenson, Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton IV not lacking for it either.
But there’s also freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, who are both averaging in double figures for the season. Against Oklahoma, Smith (13 points, four rebounds, three assists) and Culver (seven points, three assists) combined to score 20 points and dish out six assists with the former extending his streak of double-digit scoring performances to four games. While Keenan Evans’ mastery has been a key factor in Texas Tech’s run to the top of the Big 12 standings, he hasn’t lacked for help either.
With games to be played against Baylor and Oklahoma State, two teams looking to strengthen their respective NCAA tournament arguments, before the February 24 showdown with Kansas, it’s imperative that Texas Tech remain focused on the task at hand.
But if their play over the last seven games — and for much of the season overall — is any indication, sticking with what’s gotten them to this point won’t be a concern for the Red Raiders.