Texas Tech is going to the Final Four for the first time in program history after earning a 75-69 win over Gonzaga for the NCAA West Region Championship with Jarrett Culver recording 19 points and six rebounds and Davide Moretti hitting a pair of crucial 3-pointers down the stretch on Saturday at the Honda Center.
“Texas Tech is going to the Final Four,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard at the postgame press conference. “Some of you look surprised.”
The No. 3-seeded Red Raiders (30-6) reached the Elite Eight for the first time ever last season and returned this season with the goal of creating more history after also winning their first Big 12 Conference regular-season championship. Tech did that by holding the top-seeded Bulldogs (33-4) under 70 points for only the fourth time this season and will now be playing in the Final Four next week in Minneapolis, Minnesota where it will play the Duke-Michigan State winner on Saturday, April 6.
“How about our four seniors,” Beard said. “The backbone of our team. Norense and Brandone, a big part of our success. Tariq and Matt as grad transfers buying into our culture so quickly. It’s like they’ve been here for their whole careers. I’ve always loved our seniors, but never been more proud than the four guys to my left right now. They’re really the story of Tech basketball this year. I’m glad I get to coach them again. The Final Four is awesome and all that, but the most cool thing is I get to coach these guys again. We get to get after it again in practice and travel and spend time together. That’s going to be a special week for us”
Culver led the team with 19 points and was named the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player, while Matt Mooney added 17 points and Moretti went for 12 with his two 3-pointers that helped push the Red Raiders to the win over the Bulldogs. Tariq Owens finished the game with nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, Brandone Francis added six and freshman Kyler Edwards went for eight points. Texas Tech finished the game shooting 44 percent from the field, hit nine 3-pointers and was 16-for-19 at the free-throw line. On defense, the Red Raiders limited Gonzaga to 42 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers.
“It’s huge, for our program, for our city, for us personally, for our family, our friends, it’s huge,” said senior Norense Odiase who had four points in the win. “Everything we worked for starting off in the summer the workouts, the retreat, the battles we’ve been through, the struggles, man. It’s huge. It means the world to work so hard and it pay off. It definitely hasn’t hit me. Hasn’t hit us. I don’t think, yet. But it’s huge for all of us and we’re just so excited that we get to play with each other again.”
Mooney and Culver were both named to the all-tournament team for the Red Raiders, joined by Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura and Florida State’s Trent Forrest. Culver scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half and is now averaging 21.5 points per game through four NCAA Tournament contests. Mooney led the Red Raiders with 11 points in the first half and finished the game shooting 6-for-12 from the field and was 4-for-4 at the free-throw line. Culver made seven free throws in the game and Moretti was 2-for-2 at the line which takes him to 95 of 103 (92.2 percent) for the season.
Texas Tech took a 66-60 lead with Moretti hitting a pair of 3-pointers, first to give the Red Raiders a 63-58 lead and the second with 1:46 on the clock. The lead grew to 69-62 following a pair of free throws by Culver and then one by Francis. Up seven with 44 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs cut into the lead with a layup by Josh Perkins who then hit a 3-pointer after a Red Raider turnover with 22 seconds remaining to make it a two-point game. Tech would finish off the game by going 6-for-6 at the free-throw line with Mooney making a pair with 19 seconds to play, Moretti draining two more nine seconds later before Culver hit his two with nine seconds on the clock to seal the win.
Gonzaga took a 37-35 lead into halftime after a Brandon Clarke dunk with 14 seconds remaining in the half that saw the Red Raiders make five 3-pointers and lead by as many as five points. Mooney led Texas Tech with 11 points after going 4-for-8 from the field with a 3-pointer and two free throws, while Culver had seven points and three rebounds in the opening half. The Red Raiders finished the half shooting 13-for-30 from the field against the Bulldogs who were 13-for-26 from the field after starting the game 3-for-10. Seven Red Raiders scored in the first half, including to start the game with Odiase, Mooney, Moretti and Culver each scoring to make it 8-8.
Tech went on a 5-0 run to take a 13-11 lead and were up 16-14 when Francis hit a 3-pointer off an assist from Mooney. The Red Raiders led 19-14 on an Owens jumper with 10:14 to play before the Bulldogs tied the game at 24-24 with a Clarke layup. Gonzaga took its first lead in over six minutes when Josh Perkins hit a 3-pointer for a 22-21 lead. The Red Raiders responded with Edwards hitting another 3 for a 24-22 lead and they were up 31-29 on a pair of Mooney free throws and tied at 35 with a jumper by Culver. The Red Raiders were 4-for-5 at the free-throw line, while Gonzaga was 7-for-8 as it took the two-point lead into the break.
“Growing up my whole life watching these press conferences, games, and all that, and the guy that always gets there and says indescribable, and I’m like, oh, give us something better than that,” said Beard of his thoughts when cutting down the net. “But I don’t have anything better. It’s indescribable. I think a lot about those four seniors, great leadership on this year’s team and I think about all the guys that came before us, seeing Coach Gerald Myers as happy as he is, a great Texas Tech coach and great AD and I think about everybody else but myself in those moments.”