LUBBOCK, Texas — The story heading into Tuesday’s game between No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas Tech was all Trae Young. His return to Lubbock, the city where he was born; his return to Texas Tech, where his father put up big numbers in the late 1990s.
And then Keenan Evans stole the show.
Evans led Texas Tech to an 88-78 win, finishing with 26 points — and essentially outdueling Young, who missed all nine of his 3-pointers en route to scoring 19 points on 16 shots.
Evans matched Young shot for shot during the opening minutes of the second half, then kept going while Young cooled off. Evans had 17 second-half points.
“He did what best players, seniors, all-conference players are supposed to do,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “Don’t ever take Keenan Evans for granted.”
Evans had plenty of help. Center Norense Odiase had several big plays in the second half, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds. Senior Niem Stevenson buried a corner 3-pointer as the shot clock expired in the final minutes to push Texas Tech’s lead to eight. Stevenson finished with 12 points, while freshman Zhaire Smith had another solid game, going for 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.
But it was Evans who hit the daggers throughout the second half. Texas Tech was able to get him isolated against Young a couple of times early in the second half, and Evans immediately had the edge. He had one step-back 3-pointer off a crossover dribble that set the tone for the final 10 minutes.
“He did it several times tonight,” Beard said of Evans hitting big shots.
Evans has cemented himself as one of the best players in the Big 12 this season, making a strong case for All-America consideration. Going toe-to-toe against Young and coming out on top, both individually and as a team, will only further his dossier.
Young had some flashes throughout the game, but he had only the one hot streak at the beginning of the second half. There were no backbreaking 30-foot 3-pointers, and Texas Tech was able to limit his angles when he drove the lane off penetration. The Red Raiders alternated defenders on Young, but mostly face-guarded him with bigger players, starting with 6-foot-6 freshman Jarrett Culver. Young was able to get his points in the first half from free throws, but once Texas Tech stopped fouling him on drives, he couldn’t get anything going.
“With a guy like Trae, it’s so many things that could help,” Beard said of Texas Tech’s defensive strategy to slow down Young. “We just tried to give our guys quality over quantity. We were fortunate. He doesn’t have many shooting nights like that.”
Oklahoma has now lost seven road games in a row, and Young’s recent struggles correlate fairly well to Sooners’ road trips. He’s had five games of 22 points or fewer since the start of 2018, with all five coming on the road.
“It was tough,” Young said. “I haven’t been able to find a rhythm from anywhere on the court on the road, recently.”
Oklahoma was one of the bigger surprises of the top-16 seed reveal on Sunday, earning a 4-seed despite losing three in a row and seven of 11 at the time. So clearly, the Sooners are not at risk of missing the NCAA tournament, but their seed is plummeting. It’s now four straight losses and 4-8 in the past 12 for Oklahoma, with the Sooners falling below .500 in conference play for the first time this season. Moreover, Oklahoma still has to play road games at Kansas and a suddenly hot Baylor team.
During the recent four-game losing streak, Young’s outside shooting has dropped off dramatically. Including Tuesday’s loss, Young is now 7-for-41 from 3-point range in his past four games. The supporting cast actually stepped up against Texas Tech, with Christian James (23 points) carrying Oklahoma’s offense in the first half and Kameron McGusty (13 points) and Jamuni McNeace (11 points) having strong stretches in the second.
But without Young finding his shooting stroke, Oklahoma will find it difficult to win against good teams down the stretch.
“I’ve gotta improve, and I will,” Young said.
Tuesday’s win was more about Texas Tech, though, and the Red Raiders still having sole possession of first place in the Big 12.
A sold-out crowd, two sold-out home games remaining, and two and a half weeks from making history by claiming the school’s first Big 12 title.
“These are the kinds of things we envisioned [when we got here],” Beard said.