The celebration came first. And then came reality. The reward for an opening-round victory on Wednesday at the Big 12 Tournament may be hazardous to your health.
In this case, Texas Tech pulled off the victory — a 71-69 decision over West Virginia — with a last-second bucket from junior forward Dejan Kravic. And the reward was another battle with No. 1 seed Kansas, which dismantled the Red Raiders by 37 points on March 4.
“Everybody may look at the scoreboard,” Texas Tech coach Chris Walker said. “But that’s not what we believe in.”
Walker, of course, had good reason to be enthused after kicking off the Big 12 tourney with a minor upset. An interim coach in a one-season trial run, Walker’s Red Raiders finished 10-19 overall and 3-15 in the conference season. But Walker figures to be a top candidate to stay on in Lubbock, and this victory should help the cause. It was Texas Tech’s first in the Big 12 tourney since 2010.
It was thrilling, too.
After Kravic gave Texas Tech a 69-68 lead with 1:02 left, West Virginia senior Deniz Kilicli drew a foul with 20 seconds left. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, and Texas Tech called timeout with 13 seconds left.
Walker put the ball in the hands of point guard Josh Gray, who drove into traffic before getting blocked by Aaric Murray. In the frantic final seconds, Jamal Williams hoisted up a corner three, and Kravic was there for a put-back in the final second.
“It’s a 40-minute game, just play until the last second,” said Kravic, who finished with 10 points. “I saw the ball come towards me. I thought time was already expired, but I just put it up and made the shot in time.”
It had, and Texas Tech delivered a gut-punch to West Virginia, 13-19, which suffered through a miserable 6-12 season in its first run through the Big 12. It figured to be a long flight back to Morgantown after a short trip to Kansas City.
“Our credo for as long as I’ve coached has always been get to the ball,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “It’s hard to win when you don’t get to the ball. I think that’s any sport; that’s just not basketball. And this group, for whatever reason, is the worst we’ve ever had at getting to the ball.”
Texas Tech’s Jaye Crockett finished with a game-high 18 points, leading five Red Raiders in double-figures. Freshman Ty Nurse added 12 points while knocking down three-of-four from three-point range.
Now comes a showdown with Kansas at 2 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
“As our program ascends,” Walker said, “and as we look forward to the future, these are the kind of games we want to be in all the time. So this is a great precursor to what we believe the future is going to be like.”