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NCAA tournament: Texas Tech clamps down in 63-44 win over Michigan

ANAHEIM, CALIF. - MAR. 28, 2019. Texas Tech forward Tariq Owens throws down a slam dunk against Mi
Texas Tech forward Tariq Owens throws down a slam dunk against Michigan in the second half.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Texas Tech went on a humongous run in the first half Thursday. The Red Raiders scored a basket.

Points were a scarce commodity in the early going when the nation’s top two teams in defensive efficiency met in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal at the Honda Center.

Michigan and Texas Tech combined for six points by the first media timeout, 41/2 minutes into the game. The score was 6-6 101/2 minutes into the game. In the timeout huddle, Red Raiders assistant Mark Adams suggested to coach Chris Beard that their team needed to make an adjustment.

“I was like, ‘Coach, they’ve scored six points, we need to get a basket,’” Beard recalled.

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When Red Raiders guard Brandone Francis made a jumper to break the deadlock, his team’s fans roared in an outsized frenzy given it was only two points. There was no exaggeration in saying that every basket mattered.

Things eventually loosened up during Texas Tech’s 63-44 victory, but only for the third-seeded Red Raiders on the way to a flogging of the defending West Regional champion and national runner-up.

“We knew it was going to be a power struggle offensively,” Texas Tech forward Tariq Owens said.

Consider the Red Raiders runaway winners. Second-seeded Michigan shot 32.7% and 5.3% from three-point range (one of 19).

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“It was really a bad day to have a bad day,” Wolverines coach John Beilein said, “against a really good Texas Tech team.”

The Wolverines struggled to counteract a Texas Tech defense that likes to prevent opponents from driving into the middle of the court while funneling the offense toward extra defenders.

Texas Tech located its shooting touch during a 12-2 run to open the second half. When Owens powered his way toward the basket for a one-handed dunk, the Red Raiders held a 36-18 advantage that seemed insurmountable.

It was.

Texas Tech advanced to a regional final for the second consecutive season after never having previously reached that round. The Red Raiders (29-6) will face top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday in what could be a captivating battle against the nation’s top offense.

“I don’t want this to end, man,” Beard said. “These guys are so fun to coach.”

Michigan (30-7) missed its first 18 three-pointers before reserve guard C.J. Baird chucked one up that hit the back of the rim and mercifully rolled in with 22 seconds left, triggering cheers from the smattering of Wolverines fans who remained. Most had departed long before Beilein removed his starters with 1:17 left.

Beard used the same opportunity to put in his reserves, allowing guard Jarrett Culver to soak in the applause after he finished with 22 points.

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Guard Davide Moretti added 15 points for the Red Raiders, who also generated eight steals and four blocks.

“I feel like we stayed true to ourselves,” Culver said. “We played the defense we’ve been playing all year and their shots weren’t going in.”

Texas Tech fans unleashed an “Overrated!” chant as Michigan’s Charles Matthews shot free throws with 3:43 left and the Wolverines down by 25 points.

Forward Ignas Brazdeikis had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Wolverines. Matthews scored 13 points and was the only other Michigan player to reach double figures in scoring.

The teams combined for just 40 points by halftime, with Texas Tech holding an eight-point lead that felt like it was three times that amount given the teams’ scoring struggles.

Beilein noted that his team, which averages only 8.8 turnovers per game to rank second in the nation, nearly matched that total with eight in the first half.

Michigan sputtered again when it opened the second half with two missed free throws. The Wolverines got only two shots off and committed three turnovers as the Red Raiders went on the run that forged their 18-point cushion.

The fun was just getting started for Texas Tech.

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Beard said his team enjoys basketball so much that it followed its Thursday practice with an evening session at a local high school where players engaged in shooting games. There was more amusement during an exchange between Beard and Culver at the postgame media session a day later.

Said Beard: “Culver, you having fun?”

Said Culver: “Yes, sir.”

Said Beard: “We should do this again next year together.”

If the Red Raiders keep this up, there could be more memories to make in the coming days.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch


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