We’ve made it through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and it was a wild one to say the least. Two one-seeds, two two-seeds, and two three-seeds were eliminated over the course of the tournament’s first four days. One of the three-seeds that did survive? Chris Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders.READ MORE: Berkeley Bookstore Raffles Autographed Special Edition of McCartney's 'The Lyrics'
The Red Raiders missed out on the tournament last season in Beard’s first year with the program. Heading into his second season, expectations weren’t very high for his team. But they found a way to surprise the experts, putting together a strong season that now includes a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Coming off a 18-14 record and a 6-12 conference record in Beard’s first season, the media didn’t expect much from this team, picking them to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason poll. That pick came in spite of the fact that Beard would have five seniors returning, including preseason all-Big 12 team forward Zach Smith and guard Keenan Evans, who was an honorable mention. This was an experience-laden group, but it didn’t seem they were getting the respect that usually commands. That would come soon.
November 19, 2017
The Red Raiders skated through their first three games of the season without much problem, beating South Alabama, Maine and Boston College all by 11 points or more. Then came a match-up with a Northwestern team that was fresh off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and looking to make it back to the Big Dance with some of its core players back. The Red Raiders blitzed the Wildcats 85-49, holding them to just 26.7% shooting from the field and forcing 17 turnovers. Evans scored 25, hit four of his five three-point attempts and snared three steals. With their fourth win of the season, the Red Raiders started to get some notice.
December 5, 2017
After suffering their first loss of the year to another senior-laden squad in Seton Hall, Tech returned to Lubbock to face the country’s best mid-major: Nevada. The Wolf Pack entered the game undefeated and ranked #22 in the AP Top 25 poll. The Red Raiders handed them their first loss, thanks to an explosion from Evans, who scored 32 points and added eight rebounds and three assists in an 82-76 overtime victory. Evans scored eight of the team’s 12 points in the extra frame, as Tech added its second win over a Top 25 team on the season.
December 29th-January 2, 2018
The rest of the non-conference schedule was pretty easy, with match-ups against Kennesaw State, Abilene Christian, Rice and Florida Atlantic. The next big test came at the end of 2017 and beginning of the new year, when the Red Raiders faced #18 Baylor and #10 Kansas in back-to-back conference games, with the Kansas game being at Phog Allen, where the Jayhawks almost never lose.
The Red Raiders were undaunted, blowing out the Bears 77-53 and then handling Kansas 85-73. Both wins were full team efforts with four players in double-figures against the Bears and five players scoring double-digits against the Jayhawks. Off to a 2-0 start in conference play, with a win in hand over Kansas, Tech was looking good.READ MORE: UPDATE: SF Restaurant Apologizes for Denying Service to Armed, On-Duty Police Officers
January 9th-20th, 2018
As good as conference play started (3-0 after a win over K-State), the next two weeks were a struggle. Tech lost three of four games to Oklahoma (75-65), Texas (67-58) and Iowa State (70-52). But the lone win was a big one, 72-71, over #2 West Virginia. That added another Top 25 victory to the Red Raiders resume, and despite the rough stretch, seemed to keep Beard’s team afloat until the tide turned back in their favor. That would come shortly.
January 23rd-February 13, 2018
Following the Iowa State loss, Tech had two days to regroup before a home date with Oklahoma State. It would seem they used that time wisely, as they would beat the Cowboys, 75-70, and kick off a seven-game winning streak in which they would beat South Carolina, Texas, TCU (road), Iowa State, Kansas State (road), and Oklahoma. Evans was the star of the streak, averaging 24.5 points per game, as the Red Raiders took over the top spot in the Big 12 Conference.
February 17th-26th, 2018
Things weren’t all rosy for Tech however. Evans sustained a toe injury during the team’s close loss to Baylor (59-57), and the team went on another losing skid, dropping three more games after the loss to Baylor. This 0-4 stretch cost them a shot at the Big 12 regular-season title, as Kansas once again came out on top. The bigger concern in Lubbock, however, was the health of Evans going into the tournament.
March 15th, 2018
After winning their final regular-season game (TCU), beating Texas in the conference tournament and then losing to West Virginia, Tech was given a three-seed and placed in the East region of this year’s bracket. Their first round match-up? A date with the 14-seed Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, who have become a perennial pain for any higher seed wishing to avoid the upset in the first round.
The ‘Jacks took a lead into the second half and were up by seven, 51-44, about midway through the second half when the Red Raiders defense kicked into overdrive. Over the final 10:26 of the game, they allowed just nine points, while scoring 16 of their own to escape with a 70-60 win. Next up, a date with the 6-seed, Florida.
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Another tightly contested game, the Gators led by one, 33-32, at the half-time break. In the second half, the lead changed hands five times, and the game was tied at four different points before Evans knocked down a clutch three with 2:36 left in the game to give the Red Raiders a 67-64 lead. They would hold on to win 69-66, and Evans was the star again, putting up 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. The win advanced Tech to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, and set up a date with Purdue for the right to play in the regional final. The Red Raiders face the Boilermakers on Friday at approximately 9:57 p.m. ET.