Texas Tech basketball: Pop Isaacs lifts Red Raiders over NIU in final second

Texas Tech basketball: Pop Isaacs lifts Red Raiders over NIU in final second
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Nov 23, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Joe Toussaint (6) reacts after scoring during the second half against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday, the Texas Tech basketball team pulled out an improbable win in its second game at the Battle 4 Atlantis.  Down 15 points to Northern Iowa with just over 11 minutes left in the game, Grant McCasland’s team came back from the dead to secure an important non-conference win.

Pop Isaacs proved to be the hero.  Hitting a running one-handed shot with just under a second left to play, the sophomore came up clutch in the game’s deciding moment.

It wasn’t a great showing from Tech, though.  The Red Raiders struggled to guard the Panthers’ unusual five-out offense that features all five players operating near the 3-point line and cutting to the rim at seemingly random moments.

Tech would trail by the count of 40-31 at the half and would allow NIU to expand its lead to 58-43 with 11:31 remaining.  At that point, it seemed as if the Red Raiders were destined to drop their second game in as many days.

However, Isaacs and Joe Toussaint would take over down the stretch to help carry their team back.  That duo would end the game with 39 combined points to provide the Red Raiders with the bulk of their offense.

Let’s go inside the box score and break down what we saw in an exciting Thanksgiving Day game.  Hopefully, this will be a win that pays dividends come Selection Sunday.

Joe Toussaint continues to play his best basketball for Texas Tech

Though Isaacs’ game-winner was the defining moment of the day, Joe Toussaint helped carry the Red Raiders back from their huge deficit as he continues to play the best basketball of his career.  That’s an encouraging sign and it is helping give the Red Raiders some much-needed offensive punch.

His 21 points on Thursday were the second-most he’s ever scored as a collegiate.  Last season, he topped that by one point in Lubbock when he helped lead West Virginia past the Red Raiders.

Now, however, he’s powering the Tech attack.  He’s scored in double figures in every game this year.  That’s the first time he’s managed to do so in five games in a row.

Though he is only 6 feet tall, Toussaint does not fear taking the ball to the rim.  While he’s also been liberal with his 3-point shooting this season, it’s when he attacks off the dribble that he is the most impactful.

For much of Wednesday’s loss to Villanova, Toussaint and his teammates were unable to break down the defense with penetration.  UNI tried to deploy a similar defensive strategy but the Panthers lack the size and strength on the perimeter that the Wildcats deploy.

As a result, Toussaint was able to get into the center of the UNI defense and he was 4-8 from two-point range.  Also, he got the line seven times converting each opportunity he was rewarded with.  Most importantly, eleven of his points came in the final 11:31 when Tech mounted its comeback.

Toussaint is averaging 14.4 points per game this year, which would be a career-high should he keep up that pace. Tech has desperately needed that type of offense from the WVU transfer early in the season and he was again an offensive force in this game, which helped save his team from a second-straight loss.

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Tech would trail by the count of 40-31 at the half and would allow NIU to expand its lead to 58-43 with 11:31 remaining.  At that point, it seemed as if the Red Raiders were destined to drop their second game in as many days.

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However, Isaacs and Joe Toussaint would take over down the stretch to help carry their team back.  That duo would end the game with 39 combined points to provide the Red Raiders with the bulk of their offense.

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Let’s go inside the box score and break down what we saw in an exciting Thanksgiving Day game.  Hopefully, this will be a win that pays dividends come Selection Sunday.

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Joe Toussaint continues to play his best basketball for Texas Tech

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Though Isaacs’ game-winner was the defining moment of the day, Joe Toussaint helped carry the Red Raiders back from their huge deficit as he continues to play the best basketball of his career.  That’s an encouraging sign and it is helping give the Red Raiders some much-needed offensive punch.

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His 21 points on Thursday were the second-most he’s ever scored as a collegiate.  Last season, he topped that by one point in Lubbock when he helped lead West Virginia past the Red Raiders.

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Now, however, he’s powering the Tech attack.  He’s scored in double figures in every game this year.  That’s the first time he’s managed to do so in five games in a row.

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Though he is only 6 feet tall, Toussaint does not fear taking the ball to the rim.  While he’s also been liberal with his 3-point shooting this season, it’s when he attacks off the dribble that he is the most impactful.

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For much of Wednesday’s loss to Villanova, Toussaint and his teammates were unable to break down the defense with penetration.  UNI tried to deploy a similar defensive strategy but the Panthers lack the size and strength on the perimeter that the Wildcats deploy.

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As a result, Toussaint was able to get into the center of the UNI defense and he was 4-8 from two-point range.  Also, he got the line seven times converting each opportunity he was rewarded with.  Most importantly, eleven of his points came in the final 11:31 when Tech mounted its comeback.

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Toussaint is averaging 14.4 points per game this year, which would be a career-high should he keep up that pace. Tech has desperately needed that type of offense from the WVU transfer early in the season and he was again an offensive force in this game, which helped save his team from a second-straight loss.

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Nov 23, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Pop Isaacs (2) celebrates with Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Devan Cambridge (35) after hitting the game winning shot during the second half against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Isaacs plays his best game of the year for Texas Tech

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Tech fans had to be happy with what we saw from Pop Isaacs on Thursday.  With 18 points on 7-17 shooting, he was the most efficient he’s been all season.

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It would still be great to see his 3-point shooting improve when it comes to his shot selection.  However, after he went 4-11 from deep against UNI, it is obvious that Isaacs has the green light from McCasland and he’s going to let it fly from anywhere in the half-court setting.

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It was important for Isaacs to get off to a positive start in this game after he struggled to a 4-14 shooting effort on Wednesday against Villanova.  After missing his first shot of the day, he nailed his second to put Tech on the board and take some pressure off of himself.

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Eleven of his 18 points came in the first half and that seemed to keep him engaged in the game, even when the going was tough. At times this year, it has seemed that he’s struggled with frustration as his body language has not always been positive.

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This year, Isaacs had not shot over 33% in a game prior to Thursday.  Against UNI, though, he shot 41.4% in what was his most efficient showing thus far.

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The Red Raiders desperately need this type of performance from Isaacs on the regular.  Tech doesn’t have other playmakers who can do what he does and when he and Toussaint are both on their game, McCasland’s team has just enough offense to put itself in position to win close games against decent teams.  That was the formula on Thursday and it’s one that needs to be repeated frequently this season.

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Nov 23, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders players celebrates with Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Darrion Williams (5) during the second half against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Texas Tech got almost nothing from its bench

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One disturbing trend that needs to be addressed is this team’s lack of bench productivity.  Thursday, Tech managed only six bench points despite playing four players in reserve.

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Chance McMillan and Kerwin Walton each hit one 3-pointer to account for everything Tech would get offensively from its backups.  Meanwhile, Eemelie Yahalo and Lamar Washington went scoreless in their brief cameo appearances.

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What’s more, McMillan was the only player from the bench to give Tech any other statistical contributions.  With two rebounds, two assists, and a steal, he was able to fill the stat sheet a bit but more is needed from Tech’s backups moving forward.

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Against Villanova, Tech did get 16 points from its bench with McMillan scoring nine and Washington seven.  However, none of the other four bench players who saw the floor were able to give the team even a single point.

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McMillan is the key to Tech’s success off the bench.  Last year, he averaged 10.9 points per game and he is a career 40.1% shooter from 3-point range so there is reason to expect him to be a key scorer in reserve.

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This year, though, he’s had only one double-digit scoring game; 17 points against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  If this team is going to be productive, the Red Raiders need some offensive punch from the bench and the Grand Canyon transfer is going to be a huge part of supplying that.  He didn’t do a good job of that on Thursday (nor did his fellow bench members) and Tech almost didn’t have enough offense to survive.

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Nov 23, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders forward Warren Washington (22) and Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Chance McMillian (0) react during the first half against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Texas Tech saw an improvement in the paint

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The defining problem in Wednesday’s loss to ‘Nova was Tech’s inability to do anything in the lane.  In fact, the Red Raiders were able to score just 14 points in the paint.

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Thursday, that number rose to a much more acceptable 26 points.  What’s more, Tech managed that without getting a big day from center Warren Washington.

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The Arizona State transfer was able to play only 21 minutes against UNI.  He ended the day 3-6 shooting from the floor for seven points.  He also grabbed six boards and blocked a shot.

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However, foul trouble sent him to the bench for much of the second half.  What’s more, Washington struggled on defense against the Panthers’ spread-it-out offense, one that requires defenders to be very quick when moving laterally, something that isn’t necessarily Washington’s forte.

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Without Washington in the mix for long stretches, Tech went to a small ball lineup.  Devan Cambridge and Darrion Williams were all the muscle the Red Raiders needed for most of the day.

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The former collected eight rebounds while the latter bested him by one.  That strategy of using those two players as the primary post presences worked against UNI, especially after the Panthers’ big man Jacob Hutson, fouled out with several minutes left in the game.

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Will it work against Big 12 teams, though?  That’s going to be worth monitoring.

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Thursday, we got our first look at what life will be like for this team when Washington is in foul trouble and because of the opponent’s lack of post size, it wasn’t a nightmare.  However, when facing bigger teams, that could still be a concern.

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Nov 23, 2023; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Pop Isaacs (2) and Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Joe Toussaint (6) react during the first half against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Imperial Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

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Texas Tech gave us a look at how close games will be handled

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Life in the Big 12 is always going to present teams with close games.  As a result, it is imperative that a team knows what it wants to do in the closing minutes of one-possession games.

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Prior to Thursday, we hadn’t seen this incarnation of the Red Raiders in a one-score game late.  So it was telling to see where McCasland turned when the game was on the line.

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When the game had only two minutes left, Tech led 70-67.  At that point, Cambridge and McMillan would miss makeable shots.

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However, in the last two possessions, it was Toussaint and Isaacs that McCasland gave the ball to.  While Toussaint couldn’t deliver on a shot with 55 seconds to play, Isaacs did come through with the game-winner to answer a UNI 3-pointer that tied the game with 27 seconds left.

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There is no question what Tech is going to do in close games this year.  The plan is going to be to isolate either Toussaint or Isaacs and let them go to work and create their own shot or make something happen for a teammate.

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Both have the ability to get into the lane but again, their size makes one question whether or not they can truly get to the rim against elite defenders.  UNI didn’t feature great individual perimeter defenders so Toussaint and Isaacs were able to create late.

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However, Big 12 teams will likely have bigger defenders to throw at the two smallish Red Raider guards.  When those situations arise in conference play, will Toussaint and Isaacs be able to answer the call?

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We will eventually find that out but for now, we at least know that the plan is going to be to rely on the two guards in crunch time.  Thankfully, Isaacs came through and carried his team to a win in a game that seemed for almost 30 minutes like it was going to be another frustrating loss.

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