Nick Richards hit two free throws with 10 seconds left on the clock and Ashton Hagans managed to strip Davide Moretti on the ensuing possession as No. 15 Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off No. 18 Texas Tech, 76-74, in a thrilling overtime battle.
Richards finished the night with 25 pints, 14 boards and four blocks while shooting 7-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-14 from three. Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points for the Wildcats, who shot 7-for-15 from three and won despite 15 combined turnovers from their three starting guards.
Kyler Edwards led the way for Texas Tech with 18 points and seven boards, but the Red Raiders shot just 3-for-19 from beyond the arc and never could figure out an answer to Richards’ in the paint.
Here are the three things that we can take away from this game:
1. KENTUCKY WON WITHOUT TYRESE MAXEY AND ASHTON HAGANS
Maxey and Hagans did, technically, play on Saturday night, but neither of them were any good. Maxey finished 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and four fouls. Hagans finished with seven assists and three steals, but he shot just 2-for-6 from the floor and had four turnovers of his own. Combined, they scored 13 points, which is 14 points below their season average.
The reason this is relevant is that Kentucky has been, for much of the season, a four-man show. We’ve spent the majority of the season trying to figure out who they can plug into a lineup with those four to get an optimal performance out of the Wildcats. When half of that group is struggling, it’s not exactly a recipe for success.
But that didn’t matter on Saturday.
Kentucky still found a way to get a win against a top 20 team on the road.
And the reason for it was the play of Richards. This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26 against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.
Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.
I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.
And Kentucky got themselves a win as a result.
2. KENTUCKY ISN’T LONG FOR MARCH IF THEY CANNOT GET THEIR LATE-GAME EXECUTION FIGURED OUT
As impressive as this win was for the Wildcats, we cannot talk about it without mentioning that Kentucky did get a little bit lucky. Davide Moretti is a 92 percent free throw shooter and missed one with 18 seconds left that gave Kentucky one more possession with the game tied.
Truthfully, it never should have gotten to that point. For the third time in four games, Kentucky blew a double-digit second half lead. They were up 14 in the second half at South Carolina in a game that they lost, 81-78. They were up by 11 in the second half at Arkansas and, after allowing the Razorbacks to get up by three, rallied after John Calipari was ejected from the game. And on Saturday, they were leading the Red Raiders by as many as 10 points. Texas Tech never once held the lead in the second half.
To put this into context, Kentucky scored six points in the final 9:30 of regulation. They made one field goal, and that came with 6:31 left on the clock. They went to the foul line four times and shot 1-for-2 on every trip. Now, part of that is due to Tech’s defense — spoiler alert, they’re really good — but this is becoming something of a trend for the Wildcats.
3. KYLER EDWARDS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER ON TEXAS TECH
Jahmi’us Ramsey is Texas Tech’s leading scorer, their most talented player and probably the best NBA prospect on the roster. Chris Clarke is the x-factor that Chris Beard likes to use to take advantage of mismatches. T.J. Holyfield is the guy that the Red Raiders need to play out of his mind because of their lacking interior depth.
But for my money, the most important player on Texas Tech is Kyler Edwards.
More than anyone else on this roster, including Ramsey, Edwards is the guy that can fill the role that was played by Keenan Evans and Jarrett Culver the last two seasons. He’s the big combo-guard that can be more than just a shooter. He’s the guy that can create for himself while also being capable of finding assists or creating shots for his teammates.
And this season, he’s averaging just 11.8 points and shooting 30 percent from three.
Now, he’s been better of late. He averaged 23 points in wins over Iowa State and Kansas State last week. And, yes, he had 18 points against Kentucky on Saturday.
The reason he’s so important is simple: Texas Tech is really limited offensively, particularly when it comes to guys that can create on their own. It’s why Moretti’s efficiency is down this year. It’s why they are so reliant on Chris Clarke trying to take advantage of mismatches. It’s why Ramsey turning into something of a three-point shooter is a bad sign longterm.
Tech needs Edwards to be awesome if they can to be able to make a run in March.