NOTEBOOK: No. 8 Red Raiders freshmen class returns to court with renewed focus

Keenan Evans never hesitated.


When asked of what he took away from a 10-point road loss to No. 9 Oklahoma, the Texas Tech senior guard was quick to mention how his younger teammates would deal with their first Big 12 loss.

“I’m ready to see how what these young guys do,” Evans said after scoring a team-high 19 points Tuesday in a 75-65 loss to the Sooners. “How they bounce back, you know.”

If Thursday was any indication, Evans was pleased with the attitude of the freshmen trio: Davide Moretti, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver. All appeared poised for what is, arguably, the biggest game to be played in Lubbock this weekend.

“Today (Thursday), they were back and were in the gym (Wednesday),” Evans said of the freshmen. “This morning we were locked in with practice and just learning how to handle the pressure (of West Virginia). They were locked in and trying to adapt to learning how to play within that system.”

The No. 8 Red Raiders are set to host No. 2 West Virginia at 1 p.m. Saturday inside United Supermarkets Arena. The game, which marks the first time Texas Tech has hosted a Top 10 matchup in Lubbock, is slated to be televised on ESPN.

“It’s like a broken record in this league: But another Hall of Fame coach, really good players — NBA players on West Virginia’s team,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “So, we’ll have to play really well. We’re hoping for a great crowd. We’re so appreciative of our fans to this point. But as we continue to try to compete in this league, any type of home-court advantage is almost imperative. We hope people will come out and support our team this Saturday.”

Texas Tech (14-2 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12), which is undefeated in 11 home games so far, have earned the right to enjoy a capacity crowd. The Red Raiders had won eight straight games before falling 75-65 to No. 9 Oklahoma on the road Tuesday.

Evans, who scored a game-high 19 points against the Sooners, alluded to a lack of following the gameplan along with committing too many turnovers as what he took away from watching film following the loss in Norman, Okla. earlier in the week.

“Mistakes as in not taking away stuff that we planned on taking away,” Evans said. “Just not sticking with the game plan. And just a lot of silly turnovers, not really just giving ourselves a chance.”

Taking care of the ball will be high on the priority list for the Red Raiders, who face off against a Mountaineers squad which touts a +8.4 turnover margin. West Virginia has totaled 164 steals in 16 games — ranking eighth in the country.

“It’s very important, they feed off of that. It gets them going,” Evans said of taking care of the basketball against the Mountaineers (15-1, 4-0). “That’s pretty much, you know, their offense. We really have to settle down on turnovers to not let them get going.”

Once again, the key will be the confidence of Moretti, Culver and Smith who combined for seven of the Red Raiders 15 turnovers in the loss to the Sooners. Moretti lose the ball a team-high four times, but helped by recording two rebounds, one assist and one steal in the loss.

When asked about the Texas Tech freshmen class, specifically Culver and Smith, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins lauded their early-season play — especially in an upset road victory over the No. 10 Kansas.

Thanks to a combined 23 points and nine rebounds, Culver and Smith fueled a balanced scoring attack that helped the Red Raiders won their first game inside Allen Fieldhouse.

“Well, they play like seniors. I think that’s the most impressive thing,” Huggins said of Smith and Culver. “They made big, big shots at Kansas, at Allen Fieldhouse. That’s not easy to do. They both can shoot it, they both can bounce it, they’re both extremely athletic. They’re really, really good.”

Well rested

Thanks to its depth and balanced scoring, the Texas Tech men’s basketball has been able to rest its players more often than not.

In fact, Evans leads the team at 26.9 minutes per contest. The senior is followed by Zhaire Smith (23.6 minutes per contest), Jarrett Culver (21.8), Zach Smith (21.5), Justin Gray (20.7), Niem Stevenson (19.5), Davide Moretti (16.2), Tommy Hamilton IV (15.1), Norense Odiase (14.8) and Brandone Francis (14.4) round out the Red Raiders normal rotation.

“They play 10 people and they play 10 people a bunch,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said during the Big 12 media teleconference Thursday. “I was looking at their stats again this morning and they really spread their minutes out. They don’t have anybody playing really heavy minutes like we do with our two guards. … They stay fresh and stay active.”

By comparison, West Virginia guard Jevon Carter is on the floor and average of 34.2 minutes. Daxter Miles Jr. (29.5 minutes per contest), Lamont West (27.3), Sagaba Konate (23.2), Wesley Harris (21.6) make up the Mountaineers over the 20-minute average mark.

Injury updates

Zach Smith, who has been called a “warrior” by Beard earlier in the year, was unable to suit up against Oklahoma on Tuesday. The 6-foot-8 forward was on a knee scooter and was wearing a boot on his right foot during the Red Raiders pre-game shoot around against the Sooners.

It marked the first time Smith did not play in a game since a home game against UTSA back on Dec. 7, 2016.

“He’s been to multiple doctors, looking at everything we possibly can for him,” Beard said of Smith, who is listed as “day-to-day.”

Justin Gray, who only played one minute in the second half of a loss to Oklahoma earlier in the week, was given the same status as Smith.

“Justin’s kind of day-to-day, as are a lot of our players this time of year,” Beard said. “I wish that he could have played more in the Oklahoma game, but he had a knee get a little tight on him. But he’s worked really hard the last couple of days. If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I would say that Justin Gray will play on Saturday. He’ll be ready.

“But that’s in the doctor’s hands and the trainer’s hands. And, ultimately, Justin’s decision. He knows his body a lot better than I do.

College basketball

Who: No. 8 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 West Virginia

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: United Supermarkets Arena

Records: No. 8 Texas Tech 14-2 overall, 3-1 in the Big 12; No. 2 West Virginia 15-1, 4-0

Last game: No. 9 Oklahoma 76, No. 8 Texas Tech 65; No. 2 West Virginia 57, Baylor 54

Last meeting: Texas Tech 77, No. 7 West Virginia 76 (OT) on Jan. 3, 2016 in Lubbock


Updates: Follow Carlos Silva Jr. on Twitter at @cmsilvajr

Notable: The No. 2 West Virginia-No. 8 Texas Tech matchup marks the first time the Red Raiders have hosted a Top 10 matchup in Lubbock in program history.