Back home for a second game in a row, 18th-ranked Texas Tech figures to take the floor against West Virginia on Saturday with a bundle of confidence.
That has proven to matter very little in a wild start to the Big 12 Conference season so far, though.
On its home court, West Virginia (13-4, 2-3 Big 12) lost 77-68 to No. 5 Baylor on Tuesday, plagued by second-half shooting woes (37.8 percent) and an inability to run the Bears off the 3-point arc, where they knocked down 12-of-27 — six in each half.
By contrast, Texas Tech (14-4, 4-2 Big 12) turned in what may have been its best overall performance of the season — particularly on defense — to barrel past 15th-ranked Iowa State on Tuesday, 72-60.
The Red Raiders blew open a close game to lead by as many as 23 points, in large part by harassing the Cyclones into a miserable shooting night and with strong work on the offensive glass.
Coming off a road loss at Kansas State when the Red Raiders failed to produce a single second-chance point, they snatched 10 offensive caroms and turned them into 13 points.
First-year coach Mark Adams said there was added emphasis on offensive glass work after the Kansas State game.
“A lot of credit goes to K-State; they do an unbelievable job of blocking out,” Adams said. “But that also meant we weren’t crashing the boards very hard. So, that was a huge emphasis these last few days to get on the offensive glass and get some points out of it.”
Texas Tech forward Kevin Obanor accounted for five of the offensive boards to draw the praise of Adams.
“Kevin Obanor was amazing on the offensive end,” Adams said. “I thought he was a big, big reason why we won, because of how he … not only (got) rebounds, but he finished.”
Which also looms as a key for the Mountaineers, who have won four of the last five games against Texas Tech, including an 82-71 decision in Lubbock last Feb. 9 when Taz Sherman was out of action with a groin injury.
Sherman, West Virginia’s leading scorer this season with 18.8 points a game, is still working his way back to full strength after a late-December bout with COVID-19. He has averaged only 12.5 points a game on 6-for-25 shooting the last two games, including 3-for-16 on 3-pointers.
“He still is not what he was,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after the Baylor game.
“When you’re running up and down the way you run up and down in basketball, the first thing that goes is your legs; the first thing that weakens is your legs. Now when you’re coming off what, I guess, is a major sickness, it’s going to take some time.”
Time isn’t exactly a luxury in the grind of the Big 12 season.
For the Mountaineers to stay afloat in the league standings, they will have to find a way to solve Texas Tech’s defense, which ranks first in the league in field-goal defense (37.7 percent) and second in scoring defense (58.7 points per game).
West Virginia is producing 68.9 points a game, which is ninth in the Big 12 – making a healthy Sherman that much more vital.
Huggins liked how his team played against Baylor, despite the outcome, and pointed to missed opportunities around the rim as a major culprit.
“I thought our effort was fine, but this team, for whatever reason, has continued to miss layup after layup after layup after layup, and we can’t win like that,” Huggins said. “I thought we competed on the glass — we just didn’t finish anything.”
–Field Level Media