At first glance, the next opponent on the Texas Tech schedules seems like another potential cakewalk.
When Abilene Christian comes to Lubbock, Texas, on Wednesday, the Wildcats will be the third foe from the Southland Conference to face the 17th-ranked Red Raiders. Texas Tech’s average margin of victory against Northwestern State and Sam Houston State was 37.5 points, with the hosts scoring at least 84 points in both contests.
Abilene Christian fits the stereotype as a small program taking on one of the country’s budding powers, except for one key difference: The Wildcats (5-0) are as close to a mirror image of the Red Raiders (4-1) as anyone Texas Tech faces, and for good reason.
Wildcats coach Joe Golding and Texas Tech coach Chris Beard are close friends, a relationship that dates back to when Beard was a young assistant at Abilene Christian in the late 1990s. Not coincidentally, Golding’s team plays very similarly to the Red Raiders, with defense and concepts of a motion offense as the foundation.
Both teams needed that solid defense in their last outings. Texas Tech shrugged off a sporadic offensive performance in the first half of an 80-41 romp past Grambling State by forcing 30 turnovers and limiting the Tigers to 35.1 percent shooting (13 of 37).
“In the first half, we were as frustrated as we’ve been,” Beard said. Texas Tech missed 11 of its first 13 field-goal attempts before warming up.
“I was real pleased with the adjustments we made both in game and at halftime on the bench. Give Grambling credit. A lot of our stale possessions wasn’t necessarily our guys not executing or not trying to execute. Grambling made some plays, especially in that first half. But I thought we settled down.”
That was especially true of Kyler Edwards.
On the way to his first career double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds), the junior guard helped set the tone for a team still congealing with seven newcomers.
Edwards’ 11 first-half points were vital because Mac McClung, Texas Tech’s leading scorer in each of the first four games, couldn’t hit a shot and was scoreless for the initial 20 minutes.
“I just played my game and tried to be aggressive because we started off a little slow and I just wanted to make plays for the other guys,” Edwards said.
The Wildcats have thrived this season because several guys are taking the torch when needed, and a 69-48 win against Tarleton State on Saturday was a prime example.
Six Abilene Christian players scored eight points or more, led by Damien Daniels with 11. It wasn’t an offensive thing of beauty: The Wildcats shot just 41.1 percent in the victory, although they did record 15 assists on 23 made field goals.
However, Tarleton State’s offense was uncomfortable against the Wildcats’ defense, turning the ball over 28 times and never finding a rhythm from outside the 3-point arc (1-for-8).
“That’s just our team this year,” said Golding, who guided Abilene Christian to its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth at the Division I level in 2019. “This team is built different. They move the ball extremely well and they trust their teammates. As long as we share the basketball each night, the way the defense guards, it’s going to create opportunities for different guys.”
–Field Level Media