The Texas Tech men's basketball team is staring at a pair of two road games for the second time in Big 12 play.
The Red Raiders did not fair well in the previous go-around as they were defeated in back-to-back road contests to Texas and Iowa State.
Winners of the their last seven games, coincidentally after dropping the two conference road games, No. 7 Texas Tech is hoping things have changed as they prepare for a difficult test at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Baylor inside the Ferrell Center.
"It's going to be a difficult game for us on Saturday," Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. "Baylor is playing great. They've won four straight games in our conference. ... Another great team this year that's persevered through some injuries. They're playing great basketball now in February when it matters most. So we know that we're going to have to play well to have a chance in this game."
The Red Raiders (22-4 overall, 10-3 in the Big 12) are coming off an 88-78 victory over No. 23-ranked Oklahoma on Tuesday.
In the game, Keenan Evans finished with a game-high 26 points in which 17 in the second half. The senior guard has turned it up from a scoring perspective, averaging 18.7 points per game to rank second in the Big 12, but he's also become a go-to player in the clutch.
During the seven-game winning streak, Evans has netted 16.3 points in the final 20 minutes of games. The 6-foot-3 guard has grown into a closer role while a pair of freshmen have found their niche as scorers and frenetic defenders.
Jarrett Culver (10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds) and Zhaire Smith (10.7, 4.8) were inserted into the starting lineup to fill a void left when senior Zach Smith injured his right foot back on Jan. 6.
"I think we're finally our stretch, and everybody is playing well," Texas Tech senior Justin Gray said. "People are starting to come out and play their roles the right way. And we're just gelling right now. We're also playing defense really well. So, when you add those offensive parts, mixed with defensive parts, we're a tough team to beat."
The same could be said for the Bears (16-10, 6-7), who have seen a resurgence with the improved play of Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and Terry Maston. In the first meeting, Lual-Acuil (foot injury) did not play while Maston was making his return following a broken hand.
The Red Raiders thumped Baylor, but they know they'll face a formidable squad Saturday.
"I think Maston was injured, or just came back from injury the first time playing against us. That was his first time back in action or in anything," Gray said. "I know he's been working on his game, getting in shape. He looks really good right now. So it's going to be a tough matchup. ... They're gelling really well."
Manu Lecomte leads the way with a scoring average of 16.8 points followed by Lual-Acuil (14.5 points) and Maston (10.0). Nuni Omot and King McClure are close behind netting 9.9 and 8.4 points per contest.
"They push in transition, Lecomte is a deadly shooter," Gray said. "Anytime he gets a chance, he's deadly from beyond the arc. They have a great inside game, They also have a couple of forwards that can shoot the 3 as well. Their zone is really good. That's what they pride themselves on. ... We're going to keep what we've been doing for this stretch that we've been winning games, which is playing defense and getting points off our turnovers."
Zach Smith is showing progress during his attempt to return to the court.
The senior, who broke a bone in his right foot against Kansas State back in January, switched from his scooter to a boot.
"The cast has been off for a few days now, we just continue to X-Ray, MRI, scan in - whatever they call it these days," Beard said. "Just continue to watch the bone heal. A lot of this is in God's hands, you know? Some people's bodies heal quicker than others. But, on the other hand, what we can control we're doing everything we possibly can."