Texas Tech aims to win close games this season
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith is hopeful there's only one way his Red Raiders can go.
Smith had a losing season for the first time in 23 years last year. This season, Texas Tech is aiming for more consistency to win tight games. The Red Raiders lost nine conference games by single digits.
''We've got to find a way to finish some games.'' Smith said. ''That was one of our issues last year.''
The Red Raiders finished ninth in the conference last season (14-18, 6-12 Big 12). That was a slight improvement from the previous year (11-19, 3-15).
Smith is the first coach in four years to begin a second season in Lubbock. He followed interim coach Chris Walker, who stepped in after Billy Gillispie resigned. Gillispie, a West Texas native, cited health concerns after one season and one Big 12 win.
Smith lost four seniors, including leading scorer Jaye Crockett, and two of his top five scorers transferred (Jordan Tolbert to SMU and Dusty Hannahs to Arkansas).
Smith expects his two returning starters to lead seven new faces - five freshman and two junior college transfers. Guards Robert Turner, a senior, and Toddrick Gotcher, a junior, said building chemistry with the newcomers is going well.
''They pick up on things well, and they're eager to learn, and (are) very coachable,'' Turner said.
Smith is looking for fewer turnovers, better shooting and solid rebounding.
''We lost a lot of size,'' he said of Tolbert, Dejan Kravic and Crockett.
Five things to know about the Red Raiders, who open their season at home Nov. 14 against Loyola:
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
The Red Raiders have a couple of options at center. Smith has Justin Jamison and freshman Isaiah Manderson, both 6-10, and freshman Zach Smith from Plano, who is 6-8, could also slide inside. Jamison's a junior transfer from Missouri State-West Plains. Manderson, who averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks his senior year, originally committed to play for Craig Robinson at Oregon State before Robinson was fired. ''He plays hard,'' Turner said. ''He's hungry to get better every day.''
Aside from starters Turner and Gotcher, Smith has Clark Lammert, Luke Adams and Alex Foster returning. Aaron Ross, who reinjured his knee, is expected to be out until at least January. The four nonstarters combined to average 6.8 points last season. ''I believe that we have a good nucleus in our returning players,'' Smith said. ''And they're going to be expected to carry the load.''
Smith is focused on reducing mistakes, be they turnovers or bad passing. The Red Raiders were last in the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio last season and averaged 12 turnovers a game. ''We were a ball control game team, but we really didn't take care of the ball very well even though we had probably the least amount of possessions in the Big 12 each game,'' he said.
The outside shooting last year wasn't so good. Texas Tech averaged 68.4 points last year to finish ninth in the conference. Players say the problem was rushing the shot. ''We have to really take our time and follow through on our shots and then they'll go in,'' Gotcher said. ''We see it in practice every day.''
Players are eager to move the ball up the court more quickly this season. Gotcher, who averaged 7.3 points last season, says the athleticism is superior this season, so there could be plenty of layups in transition. ''We really can move up and down the floor well,'' Gotcher said. ''It's going to be a dunk fest this season.''