Minneapolis, Minnesota: By now, we should not be surprised to see that swarming Texas Tech defense claim another victim. But somehow, the Red Raiders’ dominance is still startling, every time.
“I think they get shocked, every time,” sophomore guard Davide Moretti said.
This time it was Michigan State, smothered 61-51 in a national semifinal.
Texas Tech will face Virginia, a 63-62 winner against Auburn, on Monday for the national championship.
Jarrett Culver’s three-pointer with 58 seconds left was the dagger as the Red Raiders built a 13-point second-half lead, then held off the Spartans. But as it has throughout the NCAA tournament – and virtually all season – their defense was the difference, holding the Spartans to only 15 field goals – their fewest in seven seasons – and their lowest point total of the season (by 11).
“Their defense is really, really good,” Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said. “It forces you into some tough situations to make plays.”
Winston said the Spartans weren’t surprised. Like Texas Tech’s previous opponents, they’d studied and prepared, and during the run-up to Saturday’s game, they’d surely been asked enough questions about it.
“It was right about what we expected,” Winston said. “We were prepared. They were good at it.”
But watching it and practicing against it and fending off reporters’ queries is one thing. Tip-off comes, and the ball crosses halfcourt, and the relentless asphyxiation begins.
“You know it,” said Culver, assessing what he thinks opponents are feeling. “But it’s kind of different when you’re out there playing (against) it, (realizing) how hard we play and how together, and we play for 40 minutes.”
That’s essentially 200 minutes of unparalleled dominance now in the NCAA tournament, a fantastic five-game run. Opponents have averaged 55.8 points, and that’s skewed by Gonzaga’s 69-point total in the West Region final (a total, by the way, that was 19 fewer than the Zags’ average). Michigan State had only 21 points at halftime, and yet the Spartans were only down by two. But the struggle was only half over, and it did not get better. Winston, the Spartans’ catalyst, scored 16 points but was only 4-16. The Spartans shot 31.9 percent, and hit only 7-24 three-pointers.
“They played really good defense,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I didn’t think we played very good offense. … We just kind of got stagnant and didn’t move things.”
Izzo could have been channeling any of Texas Tech’s opponents during this run. Or really, for most of the season. Moretti said after the shock wears off, he sometimes sees something else settle in.
“When you can’t score the ball and you can’t get easy shots, you get frustrated,” he said. “And there’s nothing easy. That’s our identity.”
Given Virginia’s defensive prowess, Monday’s championship game might be a defensive struggle unseen since the move from peach baskets to nets. If so, it will be fine with the Red Raiders.
“We love to play defense,” Texas Tech forward Brandone Francis said. “We love to help people out. We love to practice it.”
And yeah, they still love the idea of shocking opponents.
Texas Tech students flip cars, set bonfires after Final Four win
Thousands of Texas Tech students celebrated the team’s Final Four victory by flipping cars, committing acts of vandalism and even setting rental scooters on fire in the streets of Lubbock, Texas late Saturday night according to muliple reports.
Students flooded the streets of the northwest Texas town after the Red Raiders advanced to their first ever men’s national championship game and the scene quickly devolved into chaos.
Reports say the massive crowd of Rowdy Red Raider fans made bonfires out of couches in the streets surrounding the university. Witness photos show crowds climbing to the roofs of buildings and to the top of telephone poles. Some revelers even set fire to Lime rental scooters to commerate their sechool’s triumph over Michigan State.
Eventually, police in riot gear were forced to deploy tear gas to disperse the mob after they failed to head warnings to leave the area, according to witness accounts.
Record breaking 4 cars flipped tonight in Lubbock texas pic.twitter.com/NKKUw4O3lN
— Texas Tech Probs (@TexasTechProb) April 7, 2019
The City of Lubock issued a statement comdemning the actions of the students after the crowds dwindled, saying:
“After Texas Tech defeated Michigan State, hundreds of fans gathered & engaged in dangerous, & disappointing behavior including vandalizing property. We are proud, & excited, for Texas Tech; but that behavior will not be tolerated. We want Red Raider fans to support the team & celebrate lawfully and responsibly. We’re on the national stage so make Lubbock proud.”