November 16, 2011

Tech defeats UNT, 69-64

Going into the game Texas Tech men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie knew his Red Raider squad was in for a test.

They got it.

The Red Raiders (2-0) defeated North Texas (1-1) 69-64 Wednesday at the United Spirit Arena thanks to spurts of greatness and clutch free throws to seal the deal.

"I know that we're getting better," Gillispie said. "I know that we're working hard. They're starting to know the little things really matter. That's why it's fun to coach this team. You don't expect the 10 new guys to know much, no disrespect to where they've been or whatever, but it's just a different level.

Like Jordan Tolbert, we got him a dunk for him, he misses the dunk. That takes away two points from us and gives them two points and that changes the game. They don't understand that. As a young player his response is, 'my bad.' Well I know it's 'my bad,' but that's four points and this game is going to be a four-point game. There's no way freshmen can understand that and that's a good lesson and it's one we lived through."

Despite the close final score, Tech's 20 turnovers and poor shooting down the stretch in the second half, Wednesday's victory was a far cry from the sobering overtime loss a vastly more experienced Red Raider team suffered in Denton last season.

That 92-83 loss helped set a disappointing non-conference skid that bled into the Big 12 portion of the schedule and Tech wrapped up last season at 13-19 overall.

"We were experienced last year and we're unexperienced this year, but there really wasn't too much of a difference," forward Jaye Crockett, who had nine points and nine defensive rebounds, said. "We work hard and we play hard and that really makes up for our inexperience this year."

Tech took the lead for good at the 13:28 mark of the first half and it even looked like the Red Raiders were on the cusp of knocking the Mean Green out early with a 28-19 at the 6:10 mark of the first half.

North Texas freshman point guard Chris Jones was having none of that though as he led a three-minute, 9-2 run to get the Mean Green right back in the game.

As that run was playing out, North Texas began discovering the Red Raiders couldn't handle their press defense very effectively and the halftime score was 37-34. A dogfight.

In the second half, Tech went ice cold shooting just eight-of-22 from the field and the Red Raiders didn't have a single three-pointer.

However, Tech was effective in drawing fouls in the paint and knocked down 16-of-18 free throws. It all goes with Wednesday's gritty theme.

Tech doesn't even practice free throws under Gillispie.

"I'm a big believer that free throws are all about mental toughness," Gillispie said. "Our guys have been great. We didn't shoot them very well in the second half of the last game, but tonight if we don't make them we don't win. I'm proud of their efforts.

"No. 1, the right guys were going to the foul line and the guys did a fantastic job of making them. I really believe it's all about mental toughness. I think if you can make it out of our practice, because our practices are very, very difficult especially for young players. If you go up to the free throw line and understand how important they are without anybody saying anything you're going to have a greater chance of making them than if you're a soft player."

Other positives out of the win were forward Robert Lewandowski's team-high 17 points after a semi-disappointing first game, Ty Nurse's nine-of-10 free throws made for 15 points and freshman forward Toddrick Gotcher's 12 points. Additionally, Crockett and freshman guard Kevin Wagner looked good at times.

Wagner seemed to be the only guy that could aggravate Jones's rhythm in Wagner's 12 minutes of play.

It's back to practice for the Red Raiders until Sunday when Tech takes on Stephen F. Austin and they still have a lot to work on. But the squad appears headed somewhere positive.

That's something that couldn't be said last time Tech faced the Mean Green.

"Our practices are intended to make us play hard and play together," Gillispie said. "Play hard, play smart, play together. We're not anywhere close to that yet, but we're headed in the right direction."

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