Sports

Texas Tech Put the Spartans in a Safe and Then Shoved Them Over a Dang Waterfall

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 06: Matt McQuaid #20 of the Michigan State Spartans walks past Texas Tech Red Raiders cheerleaders after being defeated by the Red Raiders 61-51 during the 2019 NCAA Final Four semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 6, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Even in celebration, Texas Tech hems its opponents in.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Michigan State has a good offense—excuse me: Michigan State had a good offense. The Spartans came up against Texas Tech in the Final Four on Saturday and, despite a valiant, late comeback attempt, the Big Ten champions spent most of the night twisting about in matching straightjackets. Texas Tech won, 61-51, setting up a rock fight with Virginia in Monday’s national championship game.

Texas Tech has a historically efficient defense, and it has been doing this sort of thing all season. The confused stupor in which Michigan State wandered the court on Saturday? That’s the norm, and Texas Tech prevents its opponents from playing what you or I would define as basketball. They’re forced to participate in some sort of calisthenic escape room, and they spend 40 minutes learning that the whole thing is rigged against them.

Heading into the Final Four, the Spartans were ranked 5th in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, and they had the most total assists across Division I basketball, averaging 18.6 a game. But against the Red Raiders, nothing worked. They shot 32.6 percent from the field and only managed 6 total assists. Were it not for the foul line, Michigan State wouldn’t have cracked 40 points.

The Red Raiders’ defense is so good, they were able to withstand a subpar offensive game from future NBA lottery pick Jarrett Culver. The star swingman was quiet for most of the night, though he emerged during crunch time and scored 7 of his 10 points inside the final two minutes and 30 seconds of action.

Other players stepped up for Texas Tech, like transfer guard Matt Mooney, who had a game-high 22 points. Springy forward Tariq Owens was in the middle of all the action on Saturday, including his very own Willis Reed moment when he emerged from the tunnel after suffering what had initially looked to be a serious injury.

For lovers of free-flowing, fast offense, Monday’s national championship game between Texas Tech and Virginia will be about as watchable as a horse-track euthanasia. Each team lives and dies by its ability to stifle opponents, and the title may come down to a half-pint version of Lawler’s Law: First to 50 wins. But don’t blame the finalists—spoiling others’ fun is how they got here.