One game into new-look Texas Tech's season, the wave of optimism that was impossible to miss seems to have been well-directed.
The 14th-ranked Red Raiders have generated plenty of buzz with the addition of three high-profile transfers and two of the most decorated freshmen in recent program history. A 101-58 rout of Northwestern State on Wednesday added fuel to that energy.
A new challenge awaits Texas Tech on Friday when it continues a busy, season-opening stretch against Sam Houston State (0-1) in Lubbock.
To get things started, two of the Red Raiders' transfers shined brightly. Mac McClung (Georgetown) cranked in 20 points in his debut, while big man Marcus Santos-Silva (VCU) recorded a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds in just 18 minutes.
"It was great to finally play in the Texas Tech uniform and play with my brothers," Santos-Silva said Wednesday. "We've been working so hard and going through so much with the whole COVID and all the other stuff that's going on. It just felt great to be out there and just competing with each other."
The Red Raiders' chemistry right off the bat was a positive sign and led to a balanced offensive attack. All five starters finished with double-digit scoring, with Terrance Shannon supplying 16 points, Micah Peavy 14 and Kyler Edwards 10. Shannon and Edwards are Texas Tech's two returning starters and Peavy is a freshman who was regarded as one of the best high school players in Texas the last several seasons.
"The balance is what we're looking for," Red Raiders' coach Chris Beard said. "A lot of unselfish plays out there (Wednesday) on offense, a lot of aggressive plays on defense. Obviously, a lot to clean up, but a good start."
The good news for Texas Tech is that it did some of that cleanup work as the game unfolded. Northwestern State (0-1) closed within 28-22 with 11 minutes gone before the Red Raiders found their groove and outscored the Demons 29-7 the rest of the frame.
McClung and the team's third notable transfer Jamarius Burton, who played for Wichita State the pat two seasons, sparked the hard charge to the first-half finish line.
"I thought the first half, we just weren't trusting each other enough," Beard said. "We were having a lot of one-, two-pass possessions on offense. Not necessarily bad shots, but not championship basketball."
Sam Houston State figures to be a different kind of test for Texas Tech. Although the Bearkats lost their opener at SMU, 97-67, they have a dynamic scorer in 6-foot-3 guard Zach Nutall, who scored a career-best 36 points in Wednesday's game.
Nutall was especially effective from outside the 3-point arc where he buried 6 of 12 attempts. By contrast, the Red Raiders limited Northwestern State to five makes from deep in 23 attempts.
Nutall accounted for half of the Bearkats' 24 made field goals and 23 of their 62 field-goal attempts.
Nutall also has stepped up his leadership this season.
"It's not just about being the best player, it's also being a guy that has to worry about other things," Sam Houston coach Jason Hooten said prior to the season opener. "He has to worry about his teammates, how his team is performing and how his team is practicing every day. It's tough, because when you're younger, you're just trying to make it through that day."
Texas Tech is dealing with an injury to sophomore guard Kevin McCullar, who was in street clothes and on crutches after twisting an ankle earlier in the week. Beard said the 6-6 swingman who started the final six games of the 2019-20 season was slated to be in the starting five before the injury.
"Kevin had as good of an offseason as I've seen in my years of college basketball," Beard said. "Kevin was going to start this game, the first game of his sophomore season. He'd earned the right to do that."
--Field Level Media