COLUMBIA, S.C. – Keenan Evans delivered 18 of his game-leading 31 points during the last 10 minutes, and the No. 14 Texas Tech men’s basketball team erased a late four-point deficit to grind out a 70-63 victory over South Carolina as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday at Colonial Life Arena.
The Red Raiders (17-4) have won 17 of their first 21 games to match the second-best start in program history with the 1953-54, 1975-76 and 2003-04 squads. The 1995-96 team piled up a 30-1 mark under James Dickey on the strength of a program-record 23-game winning streak.
Texas Tech moved to 3-2 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and won its first road decision during the event. The Red Raiders also snapped an eight-game nonconference road losing skid to fellow Power Five opponents. Texas Tech’s last win was an 80-72 victory at Ohio State on Jan. 4, 2004 under Bob Knight.
“This was a big win for us for a lot of different reasons,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “At the top of that list is just how much respect we have for Coach Martin and the South Carolina program. It’s kind of a validation and kind of signature win for us because Frank has one of the toughest teams in the country to me. Last year was a special season, and they’re doing it again this year. I think they’re an NCAA Tournament team. They won four out of their last six SEC games. It is well documented in our part of the country my respect and my relationship with Frank. I don’t know if the news made it this way, but that’s the first thing I would tell you. This win means a lot to us because we have so much respect for the team that we were fortunate enough to beat today.”
The 31 points by Evans marked his second-highest scoring output of his career only behind his 32-point performance versus Nevada on Dec. 5. He turned in a 7-of-12 shooting aided by a 4-of-6 mark from three-point territory. The senior guard also was a flawless 13-of-13 at the free throw line.
Evans’ 31 points enabled him to surpass Paul Nolen (1951-52-53) and Koy Smith (1993-94-95-96) for 22nd place on the program’s all-time scoring list. He now has pumped in 1,310 career points. Texas Tech has amassed a 7-1 record this season and won 13 of 18 games during his career when Evans has eclipsed 20 or more points.
Zhaire Smith filled the box score with 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks. The seven rebounds were one shy from a season’s best, and the three blocks matched a season-high for the freshmen. He has dialed up double figures in 13 of his last 16 appearances.
Texas Tech’s frontcourt of Tommy Hamilton IV, Norense Odiase and Malik Ondigo combined to produce 18 points and 10 rebounds. The trio was 5-of-10 from the field and knocked down 7-of-8 free throws.
Hamilton IV headed the bench effort with nine points and six rebounds, while Odiase tacked on seven points and four rebounds. The nine points were the most for Hamilton IV since the Oklahoma game on Jan. 9 whereas the seven points were the most for Odiase since his season-high 12 points at then No. 10 Kansas one week earlier.
Jarrett Culver chipped in five points, four rebounds and three steals, while Brandone Francis added three points for the Red Raiders.
As a team, Texas Tech garnered a 20-for-47 shooting performance and hit on 7-for-16 of its treys. The Red Raiders connected for 23-for-28 at the charity stripe headed by an 18-for-22 effort during the second 20 minutes. Texas Tech has won all 14 games on the season when making at least 15 foul shots.
South Carolina managed a 19-of-51 field goal clip and misfired on 21 of its 26 three-point attempts. The Gamecocks sank 20-for-27 on their free throws, worked their way to a 32-28 rebounding edge and compiled a 24-16 advantage in bench points.
South Carolina had three players reach double figures headed by Chris Silva’s 16 points and five rebounds. Felipe Haase and Justin Minaya tallied 11 points apiece for the Gamecocks.
Trailing 61-57 at the 3:38 mark, Evans began a 13-2 finishing kick for the Red Raiders with two free throws out of the media timeout. He did the heavy lifting going off for 10 points down the stretch.
Evans rattled home a step back three-ball from the left wing late shot clock to vault Texas Tech ahead 62-61 with 2:12 remaining. With under a minute left, he drove to the basket and finished through the contact with the left-hand for a traditional three-point play to make it a two-possession game.
Odiase buried 3-of-4 free throws within a 15-second span, and Evans salted the seven-point win away with another pair at the charity stripe.
“We were fortunate tonight,” Evans said. “We had some stale possessions, and we had Keenan make some plays. That’s what great players do. He put the superman cape on a few times. It wasn’t really anything we did that well. South Carolina had great possessions, and we just had a guy making shots tonight.”
All square at 14-14 with 7:51 left, Texas Tech crept out to an eight-point lead courtesy of an 11-3 spurt over the next 3:32 off the clock.
Smith found a cutting Hamilton IV for a left-handed jam to open the run. Hamilton IV showed her versatility with a three-pointer on the left wing. Evans found Smith for a layup to make it a seven-point cushion.
Following a Smith midrange jumper, he returned the favor and fed Hamilton IV for another layup to make it 25-17 with 4:29 to go.
South Carolina responded with a flurry of its own and drew within one at 27-26 inside the closing 30 seconds on a Frank Booker trey. Evans stretched the halftime margin to 30-26 after being fouled on a three-point attempt with 1.6 seconds.
The Red Raiders used that momentum to build the spread back to eight points at 39-31 at the 17:08 mark. Smith soared through the air on a highlight-reel putback dunk.
The Gamecocks would make their move with 10 of the next 12 points to take their first lead at 42-41 with 12:29 remaining. The run was capped by a Booker three-pointer. South Carolina would maintain the lead for the next eight minutes going up by as many as five points with 6:17 left.
“I think another thing about today’s game is that we had great production from our interior guys,” Beard said. “We’ve got three bigs on our roster, and we look at those 40 minutes together. Tonight, I think we had 18 points and 10 rebounds from Tommy [Hamilton IV], Norense [Odiase] and Malik [Ondigo]. When we get outside play like Keenan played tonight, and then we get interior play like our three bigs did together by committee we’re a pretty good team.”
Texas Tech closes out the first half of its Big 12 schedule and the month of January versus Texas on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. CT from the United Supermarkets Arena. The game will be televised by ESPNU and the ESPN app.
Tickets to Wednesday’s game can be purchased for as low as $15 online at www.TexasTech.com or at the United Supermarkets Arena Box Office which opens on gameday starting at 6 p.m. CT. Doors open to the USA at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Visit www.TexasTech.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by liking TexasTechMBB on Facebook along with following @TexasTechMBB on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.