LUBBOCK, Texas — After an up and down non-conference performance, No. 22 Texas Tech stormed out of the gates in Big 12 play with a 35-point rout of Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Tuesday, the Red Raiders will have to show that they can perform just as well against one of the best in college basketball.
No. 4 Baylor comes into United Supermarkets Arena as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Bears have not lost since their second game of the season, knocking off three ranked teams in that stretch and beating Texas 59-44 in their Big 12 opener.
While both teams have talent, in some ways Baylor is the opposite of this year’s Texas Tech team. Texas Tech has relied heavily on newcomers; Baylor’s core features players that are returning.
Baylor’s formula consists of two scorers in the backcourt, a physical big man and several role players that can make plays with the ball and defend.
Sophomore Jared Butler is the team’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game, and he is capable of scoring from all over the court.
“He’s a guy that can dribble, pass, shoot and plays on both ends,” Beard said. “Explosive offensive player. I know that we’ll have to play really hard and really well to win some possessions in that matchup.”
Butler and UNC-Asheville transfer MaCio Teague do the brunt of the scoring, and they are complemented by big man Freddie Gillespie, who contributes with rebounds and shot blocking.
Like Beard, Gillespie spent time at the lower levels of college basketball, transferring to Baylor after two years at D-III Carleton. He leads the team with 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, but Beard sees him as someone who can do more than just that.
“He’s not just a big that blocks shots and rebounds,” Beard said. “He’s got great touch and good basketball feel. In my opinion he’s one of the best big guys in the Big 12.”
While Beard was effusive in his praise of Baylor’s players, the No. 4 in front of the school’s name does not intimidate him. Texas Tech already has experience big game hunting, beating No. 1 Louisville earlier in the season. Regardless, Beard doesn’t fixate on rankings, especially when playing a conference game.
“The reality of life in the Big 12 is that every single night you’re playing against one of the best teams in college basketball,” he said.
From what it showed Saturday, Texas Tech is ready for the challenge. The Red Raiders dominated on all fronts in a second half thrashing of Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders scored in bunches, defended flawlessly and controlled the glass.
It was a stark contrast from the non-conference slogs that the Red Raiders had played leading up to it. United Supermarkets Arena was buzzing, and Texas Tech submitted a high-energy performance. Beard says there is a different vibe in his locker room now that Big 12 play has begun.
“I think the conference season is special,” Beard said. “You ask any player or any coach, it’s the grind of the conference season and that conference championship that this is all about.”
Texas Tech played arguably its best game of the season against Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys are light on shot creation and could not punish mismatches on defense.
Baylor will be more challenging, and the Red Raiders will have to maintain that execution and energy to top the Bears.