Without top scorer TJ Shannon, the Texas Tech basketball team would never beat No. 5 Gonzaga on Saturday in Phoenix. Even at full strength, that would have been a monumental task for Mark Adams’ team, but without their best NBA prospect in the fray, there simply wasn’t enough firepower on the Red Raider roster to take down a team as talented as the Bulldogs.
Still, there was a moment when the scrappy underdogs put some fear in the Zags. With 14:21 to play in the second half, Clarence Nadolny would convert a layup to cut what was once a 10-point Gonzaga lead to just two points at 42-40. At that point, Tech was fully in the game after being down in double figures for most of the day.
However, on the next possession, which was extended by a pair of offensive rebounds, Gonzaga would make a 3-pointer. Then, after Tech’s Kevin Obanor missed a jumper, the Zags drained another shot from behind the arc to regain much of their breathing space.
This sequence in the game illustrated the difference between the two teams. Although it took Tech three minutes into the game to erase most of the Bulldogs’ 10-point lead, it took Gonzaga just two possessions to reassert his dominance, and at the 12:06 mark of the second half, the lead had already increased. to 11 points. And without Shannon to help carry Tech’s offensive burden, there was little chance the Red Raiders could keep up with a team of Gonzaga’s caliber.
So while the Red Raiders pulled a punch in their 69-54 loss, the continuation of some worrying trends has given Red Raider fans cause for concern as Big 12 play is set to begin in less than two weeks. So let’s take a look at where the Red Raiders are struggling as we deal with the aftermath of their second loss of the season.
Transfers don’t live up to the hype
What got so many Texas Tech basketball fans hopeful this season was the caliber of transfers Tech added during the offseason. However, these players are not living up to their reputation, especially against quality opposition, and this is hurting the team badly.
The three highest-profile transfers Adams brought into the fold this past offseason, Bryson Williams, Davion Warren and Kevin Obanor combined to give Tech just 19 points on 8-25 shooting between them. With Shannon gone, Tech needed more of that trio.
Williams had another forgettable display scoring the third straight poor effort of his season against key conference foes. He only had five points and five rebounds. That means against Providence, Tennessee and Gonzaga, he averaged just 5.3 points per game.
Warren also scored just five points on Saturday. And against Providence, Tennessee and Gonzaga, he averaged just 7.6 points. While that’s better than what Williams gave Tech, that’s not enough for a player who scored more than 20 points per game last season.
Meanwhile, Obanor was decent with nine points against the Zags. But in three unbeaten games this season against big opposition, he scored just 10.3 points per game. While that’s acceptable, what it isn’t is the fact that Obanor has only shot 5-17 from 3-point range in those three games. And for a team as challenged at 3-point range as Tech is, Obanor should be a better ranged weapon.
Another transfer, Adonis Arms, was solid with 14 points to tie for the team’s lead when starting in place of Shannon. But with Tech’s top player sidelined, Williams, Warren and Obanor needed to make up for it, and they couldn’t. Now tech fans are wondering whether these transfers will be able to step it up in the Big 12 game.
3-point defense continues to fight
While there’s no reason to complain about keeping the Zags to just 69 points, one aspect of Tech’s defensive performance deserves some inspection; 3 point defense.
Overall, the Bulldogs managed to go 13-31 from long range for the game, which was the main reason they won. And that’s something this Red Raider squad has struggled with at times.
Sure, technology is only allowing opponents to hit 32.4% from the 3-point range this year, but that’s good for only 8th in the Big 12. And that percentage can be a little misleading.
Keep in mind that Tennessee went a woeful 6-40 against the Red Raiders in a game that is the saving grace for Tech’s overall 3-point defense numbers. But outside of that anomalous showing by the Vols, Tech is allowing teams to shoot 35.6%, which would be by far the worst mark in the Big 12.
Prior to Saturday, Tech had allowed North Florida to shoot 44% from deep, allowed Grambling to shoot 47.4%, and allowed Incarnate Word to shoot 52.6%. Now, after the way the Zags lit up Tech from 3-point range, there’s even more reason to be concerned about the Red Raiders’ ability to defend the 3.
The lack of a true point guard
Another reason to think Tech may be struggling on offense against good teams is the Red Raiders’ lack of a true point guard. This is something that has been an issue for several seasons now, and it’s proving to be especially problematic this year.
Kecin McCullar Jr. is being asked to play that role most of the time this season. But while he’s scoring a career-high 14.3 points per game, he’s averaging a career-worst two turnovers per game while dishing out just 2.9 assists per contest.
McCullar is a jack of all trades on the court, but being a breeder and distributor is not his greatest asset. Problem is, he’s the best option this team has right now, with Mylik Wilson and his Big 12 taking 3.71 assists to turnover rate off the field due to a knee injury. And even when Wilson is on the court, he’s not the type of player who can dominate matches against top-tier opposition.
Against Providence, Tennessee and Gonzaga, Tech is averaging just 60 points per game and much of that can be attributed to their lack of a true point guard. Will this negatively affect the Red Raiders when the Big 12 game starts on January 1st? Hope not.