LUBBOCK, Texas — Points were hard to come by in No. 17 Texas Tech’s game against Abilene Christian Wednesday, but in the end it was the Red Raiders that managed to score enough to secure a 51-44 win.
Despite scoring just 14 first-half points, the Wildcats battled back from a 14-point deficit to take a lead in the second half, forcing Texas Tech to dig deep to pull out the win.
Abilene Christian is not your normal small school, non-conference opponent. The Wildcats won the Southland Conference in 2019 and finished tied for second place in 2020.
They play hard, particularly at the defensive end, and fit the prototype of a team that can stun an unsuspecting power conference school early in the season.
“I told the guys all week, this team will play 40 minutes,” Chris Beard said. “If we’re up, they are gonna play 40 minutes. If they punch us around a little bit, they are gonna play 40 minutes.”
Their defensive prowess was on display Wednesday evening, as they held Texas Tech without a bucket from the field until more than five minutes into the game.
The Wildcats poked at the ball, swarmed players who touched the ball down low and slid in for charges. In all, they forced 16 turnovers.
“Abilene Christian does a great job swiping the ball on defense,” Beard said. “We worked on it for two days and we don’t execute it.”
“I think we were just careless with the ball,” Kyler Edwards added. “We had a gameplan for it, as players we just need to execute.”
They packed the paint, making it challenging for the Red Raiders and the Red Raiders did not shoot jumpshots well enough to seize the game from the outside. Texas Tech shot a dismal 28 percent from the field and made just two 3-pointers.
“You’re not gonna make every shot every night, but you’ve got to make some,” Beard said.
While ACU’s defense was tight, Texas Tech’s was equally so. The Red Raiders held the Wildcats to 14 points before the break.
Chris Beard’s defensive gauntlet started at the opposite end of the floor with a full court trap. If the Wildcats broke that, they were met at the 3-point arc by a long-armed, physical Red Raider. If they got past him, help defenders flew to the rim. Marcus Santos-Silva swatted four ACU shots.
Abilene Christian’s defense spearheaded its second half comeback. The Red Raiders scored just four points in a 13-minute stretch that spanned across halftime. By the end of it, the game was tied.
Abilene Christian was able to take Mac McClung out of the game, holding Texas Tech’s leading scorer scoreless in the first half for the second straight game.
McClung had his moments, including an impressive and-one layup that broke the aforementioned scoring drought. But ACU’s disciplined guards were able to stay in front of him, forcing him to drive into crowded lanes. McClung finished with eight points on 1-11 shooting.
The Wildcats’ aggressive defense forced 16 Texas Tech turnovers, but it also resulted in fouls. Nearly half of the Red Raiders’ points came from the charity stripe, including their final nine.
One bright spot on the evening was freshman Nimari Burnett. After looking somewhat lost in his first action as a Red Raider, Burnett has made noticeable strides each game. He needs to polish his scoring moves, but his length and instincts make him a useful player on both ends.
In the first half, Burnett jumped a passing lane for a steal and finished an and-one dunk on the other end.
Kyler Edwards was a stabilizing force for the Red Raiders, leading the team in points (19) and rebounds (7).
Sophomore guard Terrence Shannon missed the game after rolling his ankle in Sunday’s win over Grambling State. Jamarius Burton started in his place and committed six turnovers.
“We’re not gonna be able to beat the kind of people we need to beat when one of our best players has six turnovers,” Beard said.
Texas Tech’s defense is superb, but it still has issues to sort out offensively before Big 12 play begins in eight days. There are too many turnovers and not enough easy buckets, particularly in the half court.