In a sentence that would have been very weird to read at basically any other time in human history, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are in the NCAA Tournament’s championship game. Chris Beard and company took down Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans in the Final Four on Saturday night, riding a gigantic night from Matt Mooney and the nation’s stingiest defense to a 61-51 victory.
The general consensus was that this game was going to be a slog between a pair of teams that pride themselves on out-toughing opponents. For the first 20 minutes, that was unquestionably the case. Texas Tech took a 23-21 lead into the locker room, and as you can guess by the score, it was one hell of a defensive showcase by both squads.
The Red Raiders were only slightly better from the field, going 8-for-26 from the field and 4-for-13 from three. This included Jarrett Culver scoring one point on 0-for-6 shooting. The Spartans, meanwhile, were 7-for-23 from the field and 4-for-11 from deep. Scoring was incredibly hard, especially for Michigan State when they got to the rim, because Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens protected the rim like the fate of the world depended on it.
Sparty went 6:26 without a bucket in the first half. During that window, Tech scored four points. This game was about physicality and defense — every shot was contested, every point was earned. Mooney led the way for the Red Raiders with nine first half points, with Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid matching that output for the Spartans.
The second half was primed for much of the same, but the Texas Tech offense came out firing on all cylinders. Despite the fact that Culver picked up his third foul early on in the frame, the Red Raiders hit nine of their first 11 shots. Mooney was especially scorching, as he showed off his ability to punish opponents from deep.
No one was happier about the development than reigning NFL MVP and former Texas Tech signal caller Patrick Mahomes.
A 13-point lead for Beard’s squad is usually good enough to guarantee a win with how they defend — they are, quite literally, the best defense in the KenPom era. The thing with Michigan State, though, is that they’re as tough and resilient of a team as you’ll find. Tightening things up on defense — Tech went on a 4:43 scoring drought — led to them scratching and clawing back into the game, getting it down to one point with less than three minutes remaining.
A Culver floater, his second field goal of the game, broke the drought and pushed the lead up to three. The lottery hopeful took over down the stretch, going on a personal 6-0 run to make a title game berth all but inevitable.
The Spartans fought, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough. The Red Raiders did what they just do: Play defense, do what you need to do in the moments that can decide a game, and as has been this case under Beard, win. Mooney was the man of the night, dropping 22 points to lead both teams. Culver didn’t have his best evening, but still finished with 10 points and five boards. On the other side, Winston’s 16 points weren’t enough to overcome the Red Raiders.
With the win, college basketball is guaranteed to see a first-time champion crowned this season. Texas Tech will take on the Virginia Cavaliers on Monday night. I implore you to watch it, but far more importantly, if you’re into this sort of thing, hammer the under.