KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One way to guarantee an opening round victory in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship is to lose to your opponent in your last game.
Texas Tech became the sixth team to lose a regular-season finale and then bounce back to beat that opponent. Let’s call this a trend, shall we?
The location and venue changed Wednesday. No. 9 seed Texas Tech, which lost at Colorado by 11 points Saturday, turned the tables with an 82-67 victory over No. 8 seed Colorado. That’s a 26-point reversal of fortune for you non-math majors.
The victory puts the Red Raiders (17-14) into the quarterfinals against top-seeded Kansas. It also keeps their NIT hopes alive.
“We played together,” said Texas Tech’s John Roberson, who had a team-high 19 points and nine assists. “We were down 10 early and there wasn’t a sense of panic. We were just talking and played more as a family.”
Texas Tech has struggled the past three weeks and the Red Raiders started the game by falling into an 18-8 hole in the first eight minutes. Going back to Saturday’s 101-80 victory, the Buffs were shooting 60 percent against the Raiders over a 48-minute span.
Enough was enough. After a Colorado turnover on a fast break that could have pushed the lead to 20-8, the Red Raiders’ Mike Singletary screamed at his teammates as they went into a timeout huddle. It was the second timeout called by Pat Knight.
“If you’re the parents of teenagers, you know the deal,” he said. “You’ve got to remind ‘em constantly. Defense has been a problem for us. We’ve been harpin’ and harpin’ on the defensive end.”
The message finally was decoded. Over the final 12 minutes of the first half and the four minutes of the second half, Colorado had 29 possessions that produced a paltry 13 points. During that span, the Red Raiders went from an 18-8 deficit to a 43-31 lead.
“We weren’t passing, we weren’t giving our teammates better looks,” said Burks, who scored a game-high 24 in his hometown. “We were trying to do it ourselves and be the hero. I feel that was our downfall.”
The Buffs made 58.3 percent of their shots in Saturday’s victory with wing players Cory Higgins and Burks combined for 54 points. In the rematch, they combined for 42 and Colorado shot 42.6 percent.
“They seemed to be a step quicker than we were,” Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “They had an edge to their play.”
So what else changed for Texas Tech?
“We didn’t change anything,” Knight said. “They just followed the game plan we had for the last game. That’s all it was.”
It also helped that the Red Raiders were familiar with the Colorado offense.
“We knew most of their sets and knew when they were gonna back cut,” said Tech’s Mike Singletary who scored nine of his 13 points at the free throw line.
Last year Baylor closed the season with a loss to Nebraska then beat the Huskers in Oklahoma City. The Bears went on to beat top-seeded Kansas in the quarterfinals before losing to Missouri in the championship game. Texas Tech is now in a position to do the same thing.
“It’s a game we needed,” said Knight, whose team ended a seven-game losing streak. “Last year we were playing for pride and this year we’re playing to get in the NIT. We’ve had a rough three weeks and these kids haven’t given up. They kept on wanting to win one more. This was a very good win. We’re still playing for something.”
For now, the next thing is playing Kansas, the nation’s top-ranked team. Of course, it’s better than getting an early start on spring break.
“We know anything can happen,” Roberson said. “When we’re on our A game at both ends of the floor we can beat anybody in the country.”