The last time Texas Tech reached the Big 12 Tournament semifinals, Bob Knight was the coach. That was four coaches ago.
Current boss Chris Beard was an assistant on that 2005 staff.
“When you build a program there’s going to be a lot of firsts,” Beard said.
If Tech, a 73-69 winner over Texas in the quarterfinal round on Thursday at Sprint Center, wins another game, the Red Raiders will bid for their first tournament championship as a Big 12 member.
The Red Raiders needed to hold off a game Longhorns team to advance. Texas missed its first nine shots and trailed by 11 with about 13 minutes remaining.
But behind sophomore guard Jacob Young, who with 29 points more than doubled his previous career best, the Longhorns battled back and trailed 55-54 with 7:56 remaining.
That’s when Beard challenged his team.
“He questioned us and asked us if we wanted to win,” said senior guard Keenan Evans.
A poised Tech team held firm down the stretch, led by Evans, who finished with 25, to claim its first victory in Kansas City since 2013. Nobody on the team had won a conference tournament game before Thursday.
“A year ago we sat up here and said we were going to do everything we could in the next 364 days to put ourselves in a better position, and we’ve done that,” Beard said.
Tech, 24-8, is the second seed, a high-water mark for the program in the Big 12. The Red Raiders were leading the conference with three weeks remaining before injuries took a toll. But they’ve recovered and look to make a splash next week in the NCAA Tournament, perhaps as a No. 3 seed.
They got their postseason off to a good start by defeating a Texas team that not only got a superb game from Young, who is the son of former Houston and Phi Slama Jama star Michael Young, but got star freshman center Mo Bamba into action for the first time in four games.
Bamba had been nursing a toe sprain and didn’t play in Wednesday’s tournament opener against Iowa State. He entered Thursday’s game with 13:16 left in the first half and immediately made an impact.
Bamba finished with 10 points, four rebounds and one block in 14 minutes. Coach Shaka Smart wished more playing time had been available.
“The athletic trainer told me he could play 10 minutes,” Smart said. “Obviously the way he played we would have loved to have had him for 29, 30 minutes. … Every time I took him out he was mad at me.”
With the loss, the Longhorns, 19-14, will sweat out Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show. Most projections have them among final at-large teams on the 68-team bracket.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Smart said. “I’m not on the committee, but certainly the way we’ve played over the past couple of weeks we look like an NCAA Tournament team.”