After rallying from a 14-point first half deficit in Manhattan on Wednesday, the (19-9) Oklahoma State Cowboys return to Stillwater to host the (17-11) Texas Tech Red Raiders this afternoon. The Pokes have won nine of their last ten games, including five straight Big 12 road victories and are one of the hottest teams in the country. Tech is currently fighting for its tournament life and badly needs a win in this afternoon to help boost their resume ahead of Selection Sunday. The last time these teams squared off, OSU entered the contest winless in Big 12 play but dismantled this Red Raider team 83-64. It was the win that started this current run of 5 straight road victories and ultimately changed the course of the season for Underwood and the Cowboys.
Let’s look at the quick hits for today’s matchup against Texas Tech.
Red Raiders (17-11, 5-10 Big 12) vs. Cowboys (19-9, 8-7 Big 12)
Time: 1:00 p.m. CST
Location: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, OK
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
The Red Raiders enter Saturday at 17-11 on the season and 5-10 in conference play. While their record might not indicate it, Tech has quietly been playing some very competitive basketball lately. They are 1-4 in their past 5 games, which includes a one-point loss at TCU, a two-point loss at home to #2 Kansas, an 84-76 win at home over #6 Baylor, a double-overtime loss at #12 West Virginia, and an overtime loss to Iowa State 82-80. An absolutely brutal stretch for the Red Raiders. They have been right there in every single loss, but just seem snakebitten. A couple more bounces in their favor and Tech could just as easily be 9-6 in the Big 12 and 21-7 overall; tough to look at for Red Raider fans. But instead, the Red Raiders are desperate for a victory this afternoon to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. If we have learned anything in these past few games, Tech has the talent to compete and they are not going down without a fight. The Red Raiders are third in the league in scoring defense, only giving up 67.4 points a game and they are fifth in conference in scoring offense, averaging 75.6 points a game.
Players to watch
Keenan Evans, Jr. Guard
Evans is Tech’s best scorer and playmaker. He averages a team high 15.5 ppg and also leads the team with just over three assists per game. In four of the past five games, Evans has scored 20 or more points, including 28 last Saturday at West Virginia. The Red Raiders need another big-time effort from Evans this afternoon, if they’re going to pull off the upset.
Zach Smith, Jr. Forward
In addition to Evans, 6’ 8” Junior Zach Smith chips in over 13 points a game and leads the Red Raiders with 7.6 rebounds a game (5th in the Big 12). In the first matchup, the cowboys held Smith in check with just 11 points and 3 rebounds. However, he’s capable of a 20 and 10 game, like he had against KU two weeks ago. Smith is always a threat for a double-double and the pokes need to keep him off the glass in today’s game.
Coming off their fifth consecutive road win and first win in Manhattan since 2010 (!), OSU essentially locked up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Incredible for a team that started off (0-6) in conference play. Underwood marched right into his Alma Mater on Wednesday and ripped the hearts out of the KSU faithful. The Wildcats jumped out to a 33-19 lead with six minutes to go in the first half, but the Pokes stormed back, led by Averette and Dillard off the bench and Leyton Hammonds to seal the game in the second half. According to the Ken Pom rankings, this OSU team now ranks #1 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and continues to claw out wins on the road and at home. We all know this team can score, but in the second half of the K-state game, OSU limited the wildcats to just 7-21 shooting. Compare that to the first matchup when they gave up 96 points at home. The defensive change can’t be overstated enough and continues to be the deciding factor in the season turn around. That first change happened January 21st against Texas Tech where the Cowboys jumped out to a 27-11 lead and never looked back, holding Texas Tech to just 64 points. However, I expect round two of this matchup to be tighter than the first. Tech just went wire to wire with KU, Baylor, and WVU, no reason to think they won’t hang around in Stillwater.
Keys to the game:
Rebounding - Tech leads the conference in rebounding defense, meaning they give up the fewest rebounds per game. Solomon and Co. have been great on the offensive glass recently, and will need to continue to attack the boards against a Tech team that likes to limit your opportunities.
Play fast - Texas Tech has the second highest field goal percentage in the Big 12. They like to limit the total number of possessions for each team and turn the game into a battle of half-court efficiency. Look for the Pokes to run up and down the court today and speed up the tempo.
Be ready for a battle - This Red Raider bunch will be scraping and clawing for every loose ball today in a “must-win” game for them. OSU needs to come ready to play and defend GIA against a Tech team whose back is against the wall.