TULSA, Okla. — After losing to Villanova in the East Regional final last year, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard extolled the virtues of the Wildcats’ toughness. Beard and the Red Raiders left Boston with a 12-point loss to the eventual national champion, but also gained quite a bit in defeat.
First and foremost, Tech picked up a little toughness of its own, which was on display throughout Sunday night’s 78-58 second-round NCAA Tournament victory over 6-seed Buffalo. In losing to ‘Nova last year, Tech was outrebounded 51-33.
“Of course it’s been on our mind since the buzzer went off,” said senior Norense Odiase, who had 14 points and 15 rebounds against the 6-seed Bulls. “It’s, how do we get back to that level? When we get back to that level, how can we seize the moment? That’s the process of the everyday grind, is thinking about that game.”
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In two games inside Tulsa’s BOK Center, 3-seed Texas Tech (28-6) showed its focus and its newfound toughness with 15- and 20-point victories. Now, it’s back to the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row (a program first), where Michigan awaits in Anaheim, Calif.
The Red Raiders lost five seniors off last year’s team, including productive talent like Zach Smith, Justin Gray and All-American guard Keenan Evans.
“We’re not supposed to be here,” Beard said. “They picked us (seventh in) the Big 12 and we haven’t gotten much respect this year. But these guys have continued to keep a chip on their shoulder and just realize that we can do a lot of thing if we play as a team. That’s what we did tonight.”
As Villanova went on to win its second national championship in three years, Tech never really let go of the pain from that regional final.
“That loss kind of hurt,” Big 12 player of the year Jarrett Culver said after collecting 16 points and 10 rebounds against Buffalo. “We got to work since the summer, everybody who came in. Everybody bought in. We got our experience, and the new guys bought in with us. So we got to work every day, just trying to get somewhere and make a far run in the tournament.”
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Tech has thrived with transfers like Tariq Owens (22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in two NCAA Tournament games so far) and Matt Mooney (20 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, seven steals in the two victories).
Meanwhile, Culver, a sophomore, and Odiase are half of Tech’s returning quartet who played extensively in last year’s NCAA Tournament run, along with sophomore Davide Moretti and senior Brandone Francis. That group combined for 46 points on 15-of-33 shooting against the Bulls (32-4). They also contributed 31 rebounds, helpful in the Red Raiders establishing an early rebounding dominance (it finished 45-32, but early on Tech had a 13-3 advantage on the boards).
Replicating Villanova’s toughness, however, wasn’t the only thing Beard added in the offseason. He said he repeatedly rewatched the 71-59 loss to the Wildcats and implemented several aspects of their game.
“That Villanova game was just a close-up look at one of the best teams in the country — the eventual national champions,” Beard said. “We take a lot from those guys: the Villanova jump-stop, just a culture of rebounding. Yeah, that game was big. I think we played some clips of it during the summer in preseason in the weight room. That’s where you’re trying to get back to. So ultimately, it’s just a sign of respect to Villanova. They have the kind of program we would like to have.
“We’re building something. We’ve got a long ways to go. But we’re going to get there.”
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