No. 25 Texas Tech's season has hit a different degree of difficulty the last two weeks, with a new peak on the horizon later this week.
The recent slate includes three games against Power Five opponents away from Lubbock, and the Red Raiders have split the first two after a grinding 57-52 overtime win against Tennessee at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 7.
Squeezed in among the current gauntlet is a home game Tuesday against Arkansas State that might seem like a breather, but the Red Wolves would like nothing better than to play spoiler.
Texas Tech (7-1) takes on Gonzaga in Phoenix on Saturday but will have to focus on Arkansas State (7-2) first. The Red Wolves come in with some confidence, mixed with a bit of edge after a road win at Mississippi Valley State that left them frustrated.
Arkansas State trailed 34-33 at halftime and struggled the entire night with 24 turnovers that led to 31 points for MVSU. An effective busy day at the free-throw line (28 of 38) and a 39-27 rebounding edge helped the Red Wolves survive for their fourth win in a row.
"Any time you can win, it's always good especially on the road, but I'm very disappointed in our performance," Arkansas State coach Mike Baladao said. "I didn't think we played up to par at all.
"We're trying to play a little too fast. Our tempo is to get up and down, but sometimes we push it when we don't need to."
That could be a challenge against a Red Raider team coming off its best defensive performance of the season in the upset versus Tennessee. Texas Tech limited the Volunteers to 26.8 percent shooting (19 of 71) and a tepid 6-of-40 from outside the 3-point arc.
The Red Raiders needed that kind of effort because they struggled to score almost as much in their lowest-scoring game since a 51-44 victory against Abilene Christian on Dec. 9, 2020.
But Texas Tech found a way to survive, and a big part of the equation was on the glass where the Red Raiders outmuscled Tennessee 54-47 with three players claiming at least 10 (Terrence Shannon with 12, Daniel Batcho 11 and Kevin McCullar 10).
The win in New York came six days after Texas Tech dropped a 72-68 decision at Providence College in its first true road game of the season.
"I feel like we had a bad loss to Providence, where we didn't play that well," Shannon said. "(First-year coach Mark Adams) has been harping on our defense and boxing out ever since we lost that game. I feel like we did a good job rebounding and eliminating second-chance points, and we pulled out the win."
Added McCullar, "We knew it might be a low-scoring game, and once shots weren't falling, we knew we just had to do the little things to scrap out a win -- rebounding and playing hard."
Building on that gut-check victory may require a stronger performance on offense against an Arkansas State crew that owns more wins this season than any opponent the Red Raiders have encountered.
Texas Tech has been a high-scoring crew all season, with the last two games as outliers. Shannon and McCullar lead the Red Raiders, averaging 16.8 and 13.2 points a game, respectively.
The Red Wolves counter with 74.9 points a game, paced by junior Desi Sills with 16 points a contest. But they have sputtered early in the last two games away from home and can't afford a slow start in what figures to be a raucous hostile crowd in Lubbock.
"We've got to step up our play," Sills said. "That's two games in a row we've started out slow and we can't have that."
--Field Level Media