Texas Tech University

Red Raiders' Memorable Season Comes to an End Just Shy of Title

George Watson

April 8, 2019

Virginia outlasts Texas Tech, 85-77, in overtime to keep the school from its first men’s basketball crown.

The landscape of college basketball in this country has changed. Permanently and irrevocably.

Little did anyone know that Chris Beard's return to campus as the head coach of the Texas Tech University men's basketball team three years ago would have this kind of effect, and certainly not this quickly. There's no denying it now. And Monday's appearance in the NCAA championship game against Virginia sent a signal to the rest of the college basketball world.

This isn't a flash in the pan. Texas Tech is here to stay.

fans celebrate
Fans celebrated the accomplishments of the Texas Tech men's basketball team all season.

Led by hometown hero Jarrett Culver, a pair of senior transfers looking for one last shot at a playoff berth and the hardest working coach in the country, a group of hard-nosed, determined, underrated players epitomized what the university is all about – From Here, It's Possible.

The Red Raiders fought to the very end – and then some – forcing No. 1-seed Virginia to overtime before falling to the Cavaliers, 85-77, in the championship game of the NCAA tournament Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Texas Tech was the first Big 12 Conference team since Kansas in 2012 to appear in the national championship game and the first Big 12 team from the State of Texas, setting a new school record for victories in a season along the way.

Texas Tech (31-7) was seeking to become just the second team from the state to win college basketball's ultimate prize. The last time it happened, Texas Western changed basketball forever in 1966, winning the title with an all-African-American starting lineup.

Fifty-three years later, Texas Tech has put the focus of college basketball in the state back in West Texas.

Head coach Chris Beard
Head Coach Chris Beard

Along the way, Beard and several players garnered conference and national awards.

  • Beard was named both the Big 12 Conference and Associated Press Coach of the Year.

  • Sophomore guard Culver, who played high school ball at Coronado High School, was named Big 12 Player of the Year and a second-team all-American by the Associated Press, United States Basketball Writers Association and Sporting News.

  • Senior guard Matt Mooney, a transfer from South Dakota State University, was named to the All-Big 12 second team, the All-Big 12 Newcomer Team and the All-Big 12 Defensive Team.

  • Davide Moretti, a sophomore from Bologna, Italy, earned All-Big 12 Third-Team honors. He was also named the NCAA Elite 90 winner for his work off the court.

  • Tariq Owens, a senior center transfer from St. John's University, was named to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team and is one of the top shot-blockers in the nation.

Then there are players like Brandone Francis and Norense Odiase, those who have been in the program several years and battled through adversity to reach this point. Francis transferred to Texas Tech from Florida after his freshman season and sat out his sophomore year due to transfer rules. Over the past two years he has proven to be a valuable role player off the bench.

Odiase was two years into his college career at Texas Tech when the coaching change happened and Beard was brought in. Injuries cut short his junior season, but he has been a force on the inside the past two years for the Red Raiders, starting 55 games in that span.

Together with reserves Deshawn Corprew, a transfer from nearby South Plains College, and four-star recruit Kyler Edwards from Arlington, the Red Raiders quickly developed a chemistry that proved to be crucial to their success.

Texas Tech's historic run began with a complete retooling of a team that lost five seniors and a first-round NBA draftee from a 2017-18 team that itself made history with the school's first appearance in the men's Elite Eight round of the tournament. With those losses, not many gave the Red Raiders much thought entering 2018-19, picking them to finish seventh in the Big 12.

But no one knew what Beard and his charges knew. No one knew the character in that locker room. No one knew what Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt knew when he hired Beard in 2016.

The Red Raiders won their first 11 games, then after a 9-point loss to No. 2 Duke and AP Player of the Year Zion Williamson, Texas Tech opened Big 12 play with four straight wins.

But it was a late-season surge – nine straight wins to close out the regular season and claim a share of the Big 12 crown – that helped the Red Raiders capture their first men's Big 12 basketball title, and Texas Tech built much-needed momentum heading into the NCAA Tournament. Despite a first-round loss to West Virginia in the Big 12 Championships, Texas Tech began to make people stand up and take notice going into the postseason.

Bell Tower
Fans lined up after Texas Tech's semifinal victory over Michigan State to ring the Victory Bells.

That's when the rest of the world got a first-hand look at the Red Raiders' signature stifling defense. After dispatching Northern Kentucky, Texas Tech shut down a Buffalo team averaging almost 90 points per game, holding them to just 58 in a win that sent the Red Raiders to the Sweet 16.

In Anaheim, Texas Tech and Michigan matched up in a clash of two of the best defenses in the country, with the Red Raiders thwarting the Wolverines to make a return trip to the Elite Eight. Then, facing a high-powered offense in No. 1-seed Gonzaga, Texas Tech's defense again came up huge, limiting the Bulldogs to 69 points, just the fourth time all season they'd scored fewer than 70 points.

Upon hitting Minneapolis, Minnesota, site of the Final Four, the doubters still did not give Texas Tech a chance, this time against Michigan State and future Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo. But, once again, Texas Tech proved the doubters wrong, shutting down Cassius Winston and the Spartans, 61-51, to reach the title game for the first time in school history.

On Monday, Texas Tech ensured that the epicenter of college basketball in Texas now resides in the Hub City.