SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Montana State coach Danny Sprinkle was an admirer of Texas Tech even before he scouted the Red Raiders. Six weeks ago, he even made a 25-clip compilation of Texas Tech defensive highlights, just to show his players what ideal intensity looked like.
This weekend, the team he admired became his opponent, and the defense he’d classified as the best in the county became his challenge.
To potentially beat the third-seeded Red Raiders, Sprinkle came up with a plan, knowing the level of difficulty that came with it. He told his team they had to be aggressive, but careful, a dangerous oxymoron that presented the only vulnerability Sprinkle found. Maybe, if they could move the ball cross court, they could find success.
“But you’ve got to skip it over two guys that are 6-foot-6 and doing jumping jacks,” Sprinkle said, scoffing slightly at the sheer difficulty of the idea. “And I knew that was going to be hard for us.”
That recipe for success was also contingent on one other thing: Texas Tech couldn’t shoot the lights out of Viejas Arena, which the Red Raiders did anyways.
Texas Tech made 10 of its first 11 shots and never looked back, beating Montana State 97-62 in what was the Red Raiders’ highest scoring game of the season. Texas Tech made two of every three shots it took, including 60 percent from 3-point range.
“Couldn’t be more thrilled the way we played,” said Texas Tech first-year head coach Mark Adams. “One of the best games we’ve played all year.
“They survived and advanced.”
And dominated, showing the potential of a team capable of going on a March Madness run.
“I don’t know if there’s any team in the tournament that’s going to beat them if they shoot the ball that well,” Sprinkle said.
For other teams in the tournament, including Notre Dame – whom Texas Tech will play on Sunday – it’s a concerning development. It’s no secret that Texas Tech – the top-ranked defensive efficiency team in the country, according to KenPom’s rankings – can make things tough for opposing offenses. But score and shoot as well as the Red Raiders did on Friday? That’s scary, even for the Red Raiders’ head coach.
“I was a little concerned: I don’t want our guys thinking too much offense,” Adams said tongue-in-cheek. We start scoring too many points [and] I want them to stay with our identity on defense.”
And it will continue to be. It’s the Red Raiders’ constant, but Friday was a display of their potential.
Terrence Shannon Jr. started it for Texas Tech. He opened the game going 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the game’s first four minutes. After the last one he flashed a huge smile and skipped back on defense.
“I thought Shannon, when he started making some threes early, that got them all the confidence they needed,” Sprinkle said.
Shannon, alone, outscored Montana State in the first 10 minutes. Bryson Williams did so in the first seven minutes of the second half with 12 quick points. They both finished with 20 points, the first time Texas Tech had two players reach that mark in a NCAA tournament game.
“This gives us a lot of confidence,” Williams said. “We played one of our best defensive games we played all year, and we just need to improve and build on that. We know we are capable of much more. We just are going to keep harping on that, watch a lot of film, get back to the drawing board and pull that out of us.”
Sprinkle sees that potential, too. And this time he was speaking from experience, not just admiration from afar.
“You have to make crazy shots against them,” Sprinkle said of Texas Tech. “But if they’re shooting the basketball like that, I’m telling you, there’s not many teams in the tournament that are going to be them.”
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