LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Jarrett Culver finally heard something from Texas Tech coach Chris Beard about the eighth-ranked Red Raiders having a two-game chase for the Big 12 regular-season title.
The homegrown talent and his teammates are halfway there.
Culver scored 16 points, Matt Mooney added 15 and the Red Raiders dominated Texas 70-51 on Monday night to stay even with Kansas State atop the Big 12 with one game remaining.
“We never had this opportunity, so we just took it, listened to coach,” Culver said of Beard, who first mentioned the pursuit of a league title after a win at TCU last weekend. “We all trust coach. It’s a great opportunity that we’re in. We’re just going to take full advantage of it.”
With his mom watching from the stands after traveling from the Dominican Republic for senior night, Brandone Francis scored all 12 of his points in the second half in an eighth straight win for the Red Raiders (25-5, 13-4 Big 12).
No. 18 Kansas State rolled to a 64-52 win at TCU on Monday, so both the Wildcats and Red Raiders have a shot at the Big 12 regular-season title Saturday. Kansas State is home against Oklahoma, and Texas Tech visits Iowa State.
The Big 12 co-leaders also put 13th-ranked Kansas’ streak of 14 consecutive conference titles in jeopardy.
The run could end with a KU loss at Oklahoma on Tuesday night, a win by either Kansas State or Texas Tech or a loss by the Jayhawks in the regular-season finales this weekend.
Matt Coleman led the Longhorns (16-14, 8-9) with 16 points, but Texas struggled all night to get in sync on offense and finished shooting 30 percent.
“They are one of the best, if not the best defensive teams in the country, and I thought tonight was one of their best defensive nights,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.
A year ago, Culver was a freshman when he watched the Jayhawks celebrate the 14th straight Big 12 title on Texas Tech’s home court. Kansas clinched a share of the crown that day and ended up winning it outright.
On senior night in his hometown of Lubbock, the sophomore turned in a solid performance in what may have been Culver’s final home game. Projected as an NBA lottery pick, Culver scored 12 points after halftime, including a 3-pointer for Texas Tech’s first 20-point lead.
Mooney scored 14 points in the first 20:23, capped by a 3-pointer that opened the second half and pushed Texas Tech’s lead back to double digits for good at 35-23 after Texas’ Elijah Mitrou-Long hit a 3 at the first-half buzzer.
“We’re in the fight and that’s something we talk about all the time,” Beard said. “You want to be play some of your best basketball as March approaches, and we are.”
Texas: A roller-coaster season continues for the Longhorns, who were coming off a win over Iowa State that dramatically improved their NCAA Tournament hopes. Against the Cyclones, Jase Febres hit eight 3s for a career-high 26 points. He missed all five 3s and had four points against the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech: The Raiders remained the hottest team in the Big 12 and one of the hottest in the country, with a 10th win in 11 games. Davide Moretti stayed hot from long range as well, making all three and scoring 11 points. The guard from Italy has made at least half his 3s in eight straight games.
ONE MORE WIN
The Red Raiders’ last conference championship was 1995-96 when they went 14-0 in the final year of the Southwest Conference. If they match that school record for league wins, they will at least share a Big 12 crown. “We worked so hard for this moment to be 40 minutes away from a championship,” senior Norense Odiase said. “This was a huge game, but every game gets bigger.”
With two-time NBA defensive player of the year Dennis Rodman among the capacity crowd, the Texas Tech defense was as suffocating as usual. The Longhorns were 8 of 27 from the field in each half.
Texas: The Longhorns finish the regular season at home vs. TCU on Saturday.
Texas Tech: The visit to Iowa State gives the Red Raiders a chance to avenge their only home loss of the season.