KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It was after Texas Tech lost to Texas in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, ending the Red Raiders’ season, that Chris Beard defied his team to avoid a similar fate the next year.
They’ve certainly risen to the challenge.
Keenan Evans scored 25 points, including a pretty fadeaway jumper in the closing minutes, and the No. 14 Red Raiders held off hot-shooting Jacob Young and the Longhorns for a 73-69 victory on Thursday night that ushered them into the semifinal round for the first time since 2005.
“We said we were going to do everything we could the next 364 days to put ourselves in a better position,” Beard recalled, “and I think we’ve done that.”
Jarrett Culver added 13 points for the deep and talented Red Raiders (24-8), who had lost four of their last five in the regular season but appeared to recapture their mojo in Kansas City.
They’ll play No. 18 West Virginia or Baylor on Friday night for a spot in the title game.
Young had a career-high 29 points for the Longhorns (19-14), going 11 of 17 from the field and 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. But he missed a wide open layup with 36 seconds left that would have gotten the Longhorns within 70-67, and Evans made a free throw at the other end to help seal it.
Matt Coleman added 20 points for No. 7 seed Texas, which got star freshman Mo Bamba back from a toe sprain that had caused him to miss three games. The 6-foot-11 center was still a step slower than normal, and he wound up with 10 points and four rebounds in 14 minutes.
“We just lost a tight game and you never feel good after a loss,” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said. “Texas Tech played a great game but there’s a lot of things, when we look at the tape, if we could have done this a little harder or a little better we could have won.”
It was the No. 2 seed Red Raiders’ first quarterfinal win since 2005, when they advanced all the way to the Big 12 title game. They have never won the league’s postseason tournament.
“There’s still a long road but we have another one tomorrow,” Evans said. “We just have to not get too high or too low and get ready for the next one.”
The Longhorns, who survived a tough game against Iowa State in the opening round, misfired on their first nine shots, went nearly 6 minutes without a point and allowed the Red Raiders to roar to an early double-digit lead that they maintained much of the first half.
Their lead was still 32-19 with 2 minutes left when Young buried a 3-pointer. Bamba followed with a nice putback, Coleman added a couple of foul shots, and Bamba hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the wing to draw the Longhorns within 35-28 at the break.
“We got off to a rough start,” Coleman said, “but as the game got going, we got more comfortable and shots started to fall in our favor.”
Texas Tech extended its lead to 12 early in the second half before Young heated up.
The sophomore guard, who averaged 5.2 points coming in, buried a pair of 3-pointers a minute apart to start his onslaught. He added two more 3s in succession a few minutes later, getting fouled on the second and making the free throw to pull the Longhorns within 53-39 with 10:58 to go.
By that point Young had shattered his career high of 14 points, set coincidentally against the Red Raiders last year and matched against Kansas just last month.
“My teammates pushing me to be who I am and do what I do,” he said. “Being a fighter.”
Texas was still fighting down the stretch, getting within 70-65 after Dylan Osetkowski’s basket with just under a minute to play. But when they got the ball back off a turnover, Young missed his open layup, and that allowed the Red Raiders to put the game away from the foul line.
Texas felt good about its NCAA Tournament hopes after knocking off the Cyclones, but a win over the Red Raiders would have gone a long way toward making Sunday just a little bit more comfortable.
Texas Tech led the regular-season conference race until the final weeks, when Kansas caught up and passed the Red Raiders. They’re one step closer to a potential showdown with the Jayhawks in the title game after Kansas advanced to a semifinal against Kansas State.
Texas heads back to Austin to await its NCAA Tournament fate.
Texas Tech gets ready for Friday night’s semifinal.