Texas Tech to be tested in Big 12 play

AMES, Iowa (AP) — First-year coach Chris Beard got Texas Tech off to a fast start that engendered optimism in Lubbock.

The Red Raiders (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) were reminded in their Big 12 opener that life won’t be nearly so easy in league play.

Texas Tech rolled off 11 wins out of 12 to open the season, including eight victories by at least 20 points. It looked like the Red Raiders might do the same to Iowa State on Friday, but a 7½-minute scoreless stretch doomed them to a 63-56 loss.

Tech hosts No. 7 West Virginia on Tuesday — and then must travel to face No. 3 Kansas on Saturday.

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“I’ve got a lot of confidence and belief in our players. We’ve got a good team,” Beard said after the loss to the Cyclones.

Despite the very real prospect of a 0-3 start to Big 12 play, Beard is probably right.

The Red Raiders had a tumultuous offseason after reaching the NCAA Tournament a year ago for the first time since 2007.

Coach Tubby Smith unexpectedly bolted for Memphis. Beard, a former longtime Tech assistant who coached last season at Arkansas-Little Rock, left UNLV after less than a month in Las Vegas to fill the void.

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But Smith left Beard with the ingredients needed to compete in the Big 12.

The Red Raiders have size, depth and experience, with five veteran starters led by point guard Keenan Evans and forward Zach Smith. Tech also spreads the ball around — four players average at least 11.5 points per game — and it’s among the best rebounding teams in the country, at over plus-11 per outing.

Still, the Red Raiders’ 11-1 start was questioned because it came against one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the county. They split their two biggest challenges, losing 67-65 to Auburn on a neutral floor and beating Richmond 79-72.

“Even though we’re an experienced team in a lot of ways, we do have some players that have never played in the Big 12. And as much as you try to explain it or as much as you try and challenge yourself with nonconference games … it’s not the Big 12 until you get here. So I think it’s a great learning experience. It’s an 18-round fight,” Beard said.

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For the first 30 minutes of the first round, Tech looked like a Big 12 contender.

The Red Raiders flummoxed the Cyclones on their home floor, a rare sight at Hilton Coliseum, and jumped ahead by as many as 14. But with defeat looming, Iowa State coach Steve Prohm went to a four-guard lineup and the explosive Cyclones got rolling.

Iowa State got Tech out of the deliberate pace it prefers and the Red Raiders crumbled. Texas Tech shot just 26 percent from the floor and was outscored 38-21 in the second half.

It’ll be up to the Red Raiders to prove whether their inability to close out the Cyclones was a fluke or a sign of things to come.

“We went through that all of last year. You have to play out the games until the very end,” Keenan Evans said. “We knew coming in what we needed to do. We’ve just got to get it done.”