Texas Tech dropped its opening game in the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, 76-60, tonight in Kansas City, Mo. against Oklahoma State to end the Red Raiders’ initial season under coach Billy Gillispie.
Tech finished with an 8-23 record, with the lone victory against a Big 12 opponent a 65-47 win over Oklahoma on Feb. 11 in Lubbock.
Four different Oklahoma State players scored in double-digits at the Sprint Center, led by 20 points from guard Keiton Page. Tech answered with a team-high 16 points from forward Jordan Tolbert, a freshman from Fort Worth, and made a second-half surge that allowed the Raiders to erase a 12-point deficit and grab a 36-35 lead with 16:57 remaining.
It would be Tech’s lone lead of the night. OSU immediately responded with a 15-0 run that swung the momentum in the Cowboys’ favor for good. OSU (15-17) will meet Missouri (27-4) in Thursday’s second-round game in Kansas City.
Despite the loss and the final record, Gillispie said the Red Raiders laid a strong foundation in a rebuilding season marked by 10 first-year players. Among the newcomers were seven freshmen, including Tolbert, an All Saints Episcopal High School graduate who led the team in scoring (11.6 avg.) and rebounding (5.8 avg.) during the regular season.
“We’ve set the foundation of how we’re going to move forward,” Gillispie said. “And it will be built in a big hurry.”
Gillispie, a Graford native who previously rebuilt programs at UTEP and Texas A&M, said the believes the Red Raiders are “dramatically improved” since the start of Big 12 play.
“The thing these guys have improved the most on is our approach and understanding what it takes to be successful at this level,” Gillispie said. “You’ve got to do things on and off the court like a championship team. And I like our effort. We’re not winning enough, but our guys are setting the stage for that in the future ... It takes a little time to get a complete roster like you want it. We’ve got to get faster. We’ve got to get bigger. We’ve got to get stronger. A lot of that happens when you have more mature players.”
Gillispie said the best thing about this year’s team is that players “never gave up” despite dropping 18 of 19 meetings against league opponents. Frequently, Gillispie said coaches and players could relate to Wiley Coyote in pursuit of the Roadrunner because they kept winding up in situations “where the anvil always hits you on the head.”
But he vowed to change that, starting next season.
“We lost too much,” Gillispie said. “But it could have been a lot worse. And we’ll get that fixed in short time.”
Tolbert agreed. He cited several positive signs from the season finale, including a 33-21 edge in rebounding that the Raiders managed to squander with by committing 18 turnovers. OSU had only seven. Tolbert said Tech’s final outing will be “a great game to build off of” for a team that considers itself on the rise.
“We’ve come a long way (this season),” Tolbert said. “When we first started, it was vey tough. But we never stopped. We always kept fighting. And as the season went on … we know that we got better in a lot of different aspects of the game. The wins and the losses, they don’t show it. But we did get better. So we’re just waiting for next year.”
_ Jimmy Burch