Held without a field goal for the first three quarters of Texas Tech’s first Final Four game in program history, Jarrett Culver rediscovered his shooting stroke just in time.
The future lottery pick scored seven points in the final two-plus minutes, helping Texas Tech stifle Michigan State’s late comeback and emerge with a 61-51 victory.
Michigan State had trimmed a 13-point second-half deficit to one with less than three minutes remaining when Culver finally responded. His short jumper pushed Texas Tech’s lead back to three and paved the way for an even bigger shot a few possessions later.
With Texas Tech leading by four and just over one minute remaining, Culver got Michigan State defensive ace Matt McQuaid on his heels, pulled up and buried a top-of-the-key 3-pointer. Suddenly, the Red Raiders’ lead was seven again and they could start looking ahead toward a defensive showdown with Virginia in Monday night’s national title game.
That Texas Tech is one victory away from a national championship is unfathomable given the program’s thoroughly unremarkable history.
Before Chris Beard arrived in 2016, Texas Tech had won only eight games in the NCAA tournament in program history and had never advanced past the Sweet 16. The Red Raiders have won eight in the past two years alone under Beard, advancing to the Elite Eight last season before toppling the likes of Michigan, Gonzaga and Michigan State this spring.
What makes that two-year stretch all the more impressive is that Beard has won with two very different rosters. Six of Texas Tech’s top eight players from last year either exhausted their eligibility or left for the NBA including All-American guard Keenan Evans and surprise one-and-done Zhaire Smith.
Rather than accept that this would be a rebuilding year, Beard reloaded by adding a pair of key graduate transfers. Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney carried the Red Raiders on Saturday night while Culver was struggling with his shot.
Owens was the anchor of a defense that held Michigan State to 21 first-half points, blocking three shots and altering others until a scary right ankle injury briefly forced him to the locker room with 14 minutes left in the second half. It was then that Mooney caught fire, delivering nine of his game-high 22 points on back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to help Texas Tech open a 48-35 second-half lead.
Michigan State’s unwillingness to fold is a testament to the Spartans’ desire to get head coach Tom Izzo the career-validating second national title he craves. Eight times Izzo has taken Michigan State to the Final Four, but only twice has he advanced to the championship game.
The Spartans appeared to be in pretty strong position when they uncorked a 16-4 run capped by Aaron Henry’s driving layup to cut Texas Tech’s lead to one. The Red Raiders went scoreless for nearly five minutes during that stretch and appeared to be out of answers for how to attack Michigan State’s defense.
It was then that Culver at last stepped forward and carried his team over the finish line.
In the game’s first 37-plus minutes, he had three points. In the final two-plus minutes, he atoned for it.