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For the first time in the 94-year history of Texas Tech basketball, the Red Raiders are heading to the Final Four.
Tech upset top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday in the Elite Eight, booking its trip to Minneapolis with a 75-69 victory.
The third-seeded Red Raiders closed the game with grit and fire, locking up the nation’s best offense down the stretch. Tariq Owens’ incredible block-and-save on Rui Hachimura was emblematic of their effort.
In the final minute, they almost coughed up a seven-point advantage – the biggest for either team all night. Two consecutive turnovers by Davide Moretti gave Gonzaga life. Josh Perkins hit a quick-trigger 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, giving the game the tense finish the first 39 minutes merited.
But Matt Mooney knocked down two clutch free throws. And with the lead back down to two after a Bulldogs bucket, Josh Perkins reached out of bounds and fouled a Texas Tech player before he could inbound the ball – by rule, a two-shot technical. Moretti swished both free throws to put Tech up four, and all but send his team to the Final Four.
Texas Tech wins a high-level, 40-minute battle
The game was everything anybody would want from a latter-round NCAA tournament game – and more. It was unyielding defense matched by shot-making. Basketball intelligence. Lead changes. Chess masters. Lottery picks. Athletes. Drama.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt duo was excellent. Hachimura and Brandon Clarke did almost everything one can do on a basketball floor. They ran fast breaks and crashed the boards. They drilled foul-line jumpers and threw down dunks. Even against the length of Owens, they showed their mettle, and combined for 40 points.
Tech, though, showed its own – and not just on the defensive end, where it has wowed all season. Its constant movement on offense made Gonzaga work. And its timely shooting ensured the Zags couldn’t afford to relax.
Because they certainly couldn’t lose an ounce of focus with the ball in their hands. Texas Tech was incessantly active on defense. The Red Raiders forced 16 turnovers. They disrupted almost everything the West region’s top seed wanted to do. Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert, Gonzaga’s premier 3-point marksmen, were held to a combined 10 points – all from Norvell.
Back-and-forth battle turns physical late
In crunch time, the game got intensely physical – almost too physical for the refs to call every foul. So they decided to call next to none.
Their leniency was an advantage for Texas Tech – the instigators of the physicality. Clarke and Hachimura would get mauled as they tried to bulldoze their way to the rim. Whistles, though, were often non-existent.
Gonzaga only scored one field goal between the 8:49 and 1:33 marks of the second half – and three over a 12-minute span. Yet it didn’t reach the bonus until there were three seconds remaining. Tech was only called for seven second-half fouls. Mark Few and Zags fans will likely be livid with the refereeing.
But this is a victory, and a big-picture accomplishment, that Texas Tech fully deserved.
Chris Beard’s remarkable Texas Tech ascent
That Gonzaga was the favorite, with superior skill, says a lot about what Few has done with the program over the past two decades. It is nothing short of extraordinary.
But that Texas Tech could match the Zags with a St. John’s transfer, a three-star hometown kid, an Italian, a graduate student at his third university, and an entire cast devoid of hype was equally, if not more, remarkable. No coach in college basketball has been more impressive than Chris Beard over the past two years.
And Beard himself has a remarkable story. He has coached at the junior college, semi-pro, Division III, Division II and Division I levels. Six short years ago, he was at Division III McMurry University. Four years ago, he was at Angelo State, and three years ago at Arkansas-Little Rock.
Now, one year after leading Texas Tech to its first-ever Elite Eight – and a year after losing five of his top six scorers to either graduation or the NBA – he and the Red Raiders are off to their first-ever Final Four.
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