LUBBOCK, Texas – Keenan Evans delivered all 23 of his points after halftime, and the No. 12 Texas Tech men's basketball team halted a season's long four-game losing streak with a 79-75 victory over TCU on Saturday at the United Supermarkets Arena.
The Red Raiders (23-8, 11-7 Big 12) sent their five-member senior class out in-style with the program's highest Big 12 regular season finish and the most Big 12 wins for a single season in program history.
Texas Tech will be the No. 2 seed at next week's Phillips 66 Big 12 Championships and will face the winner of the Texas-Iowa State game at 6 p.m. CT during Thursday's quarterfinal round at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
"It was a good game for us," Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. "I wanted to get back on a winning streak before we head to Kansas City. Ultimately every season, I told the guys, we have four chances to win a championship. One is our MTE (multi-team effort), Connecticut and we got that done that early season championship. You always want to try and compete for your regular season conference championship. We were right there. Obviously, we had a little bit of adversity down the stretch, but we were part of the fight. I'm really proud of our guys. Finishing second in this league is nothing to hang your head down about. Now, we have a chance to try to win a championship in Kansas City, and we intend to be apart of the fight. Then ultimately, the national tournament, we're going to try to be a factor. Pleased to get the win tonight, TCU is a really good team. There is a reason they won four straight. There was a reason they were picked way back before the season to be one of the better teams in our conference. Coach Dixon does a great job, and they have great players. Lastly, these five seniors are special guys to me. I respect them all as people. I really enjoyed coaching them, and I'm looking forward to keeping this ride as long as we possibly can. I want to coach these guys as long as I can. I'm proud of each of them and everything they've done to establish our program."
For Evans, he piled up his 23 points on 6-of-9 from the floor and was a flawless 10-of-10 at the free throw line. The Red Raiders have won 10 of 11 games this season and 16 of 20 games during his career when the Richardson native goes for 20 or more points.
Zhaire Smith tacked on 15 points, five rebounds and two steals to bring his streak to nine straight games in double figures whereas Niem Stevenson added 11 points. Stevenson has secured double figures in back-to-back games and three of his last four appearances.
Justin Gray garnered a solid all-around effort with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Jarrett Culver, Norense Odiase and Zach Smith each chipped in six points. Culver continued his solid rebounding efforts and hauled down seven boards on the defensive end.
"Keenan, like most great players, lets the game come to him," Beard said. "At a certain point, you have to get aggressive. I think he played a great floor game and left a lot of assists on the table. Some of his teammates missed a couple easy shots. I'm not telling Keenan Evans much this time of year – just be yourself, be aggressive, play, be confident, believe in yourself and let me know how the foots feeling. You have to give Keenan all of the credit tonight. That was Keenan Evans, that wasn't me."
As a team, Texas Tech drained 25-for-50 from the field which included 13 of its 21 shot attempts during the second 20 minutes. The Red Raiders hit on 6-for-13 on triples and knocked down 23-for-29 at the free throw line. Texas Tech scored 29 of the game's 39 bench points.
The Frogs (21-10, 9-9 Big 12) had their four-game winning streak come to a close and will be seeded fifth at next week's conference tournament. TCU connected on 26-of-64 shooting but misfired on 18 of its 23 attempts from three-point territory. The Frogs were an efficient 18-of-23 on free throws and secured a 15-3 advantage in offensive rebounds en route to a healthy 21-2 edge on second chance points.
Four players amassed double figures for TCU headed by double-doubles for Vladimir Brodziansky (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Kenrich Williams (11 points, 10 rebounds). Desmond Bane dropped in a team-leading 21 points for the Frogs.
Facing a 44-37 deficit at the 18:02 mark of the second half, the Red Raiders went to work with 12 of the next 17 points over the next 3:06 off the clock.
Gray and Brandone Francis started the charge with a pair of midrange jumpers to pull within one possession. TCU countered with a Bane trey and Brodziansky jumper to push the margin back to 47-41 with 16:37 remaining.
Then, Francis found Zhaire Smith for a trey on the left wing. Evans tacked on a pair of driving layups. The second one he was fouled and made the free throw for the traditional three-point play to knot the score at 49-49 with 14:38 to go. The Red Raiders took the lead for good as Gray connected with Zhaire Smith for a layup a minute later.
Texas Tech relied on several key plays down the stretch to maintain the lead. Zhaire Smith hit an acrobatic reverse layup high off the glass to push the lead to 73-69 at the 2:04 mark.
After TCU answered with an Alex Robinson layup, Evans drove hard to the cup and finished with left hand to push the spread back to four points. A Culver block on the ensuing possession was key, and the Red Raiders knocked down four of their six free throw attempts inside the final 40 seconds.
The Frogs led by as many as 12 points during the opening half, but Texas Tech used a 6-1 closing spurt to get back within 39-35 at halftime.
"One thing is it was desperation," Beard said. "Our backs are against the wall. You go into a Big 12 game at halftime down 10, 11 or 12 points, it's going to be really difficult. We wanted to get it back down to a manageable amount. I thought we did so. A lot of it was stemmed out of urgency. We were playing for a lot. You're playing to win, playing for senior night and you're playing to get this losing streak past us. These guys are trying so hard, but in sports sometimes you get a little tight if you try too hard. We had a real urgency with our team the last two minutes of the first half to get the thing down to a manageable amount."
Texas Tech will await the winner of the Texas-Iowa State game in Thursday's quarterfinal round at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championships. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT from the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The game will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2 along with the ESPN app.