LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas Tech came ready to play.
The No. 13-ranked Red Raiders opened the game on a 7-0 run and the season with an 85-60 non-conference win over Eastern Illinois on Tuesday in front of a sold-out United Supermarkets Arena. Four players scored in double-figures led by freshman Jahmi'us Ramsey with 19 who knocked down three 3-pointers and also led the team with three steals. Tech moved their non-conference home winning streak to 48 games in front of 15,098 fans, including 4,866 students.
"I was impressed with the guy's preparation this week," Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. "They were dialed in. To have the emotion there at the start of the game, big crowd, first Division I game for a lot of guys. Then you put on top of that the two banners and the videos and all this, that's hard to do. But I thought our guys, there was a calmness to us early that was really impressive."
TJ Holyfield went 7-for-8 from the field to finish with 15 points to go along with six rebounds, while Davide Moretti had 13 points and freshman Terrence Shannon, Jr. went for 11 points. Chris Clarke led the team with eight assists, including seven in the first half for the Red Raiders who finished the game with 25 assists. Kyler Edwards led the team with seven rebounds and added six points for the Red Raiders who are now 68-27 all-time in season-opening games and 4-0 under Beard.
"It was more than I expected and it was great to play in front of a crowd like that again," Holyfield said. "I think the crowd is the reason why we started off with such a good start and I didn't think our guys got too overwhelmed by it and it was a good crowd. My first basket came off an assist, so it's all credit to my teammates. Everyone was moving together in our offense and that helped me score."
Holyfield, a graduate transfer playing in his first game with the Red Raiders, scored the game's first four points starting on a layup assisted by Moretti. Three free throws by Shannon pushed the run to 7-0 before EIU scored its first basket. Tech took a 46-51 lead into halftime despite the Panthers closing it to as close as two after the early start. The Red Raiders led by 15 after a Shannon dunk with 3:35 remaining in the half. Ramsey led Tech at halftime with 13 points after going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers, while Holyfield had 11 points and four rebounds.
The Red Raiders finished the game shooting 55.2 percent from the field (32-for-58) and held EIU to 40.4 percent. Tech hit eight three points and had a 40-30 rebounding advantage in the game. Ramsey shot 8-for-15 from the field while Moretti was 3-for-4 on 3-pointers. A junior from Bologna, Italy, Moretti now has 102 3-pointers made in his career and started his third season with the program by going 2-for-2 at the free-throw line a year after leading the nation at 92.4 percent.
With Clarence Nadolny and Russel Tchewa adding six and Kevin McCullar scoring two points, the Tech freshman class scored 44 of the 85 points in the opener.
"I mean pressure's a blessing, pressure is why you play at this level, why you coach at this level, why you support a team at this level," said Beard when asked about pressure on freshmen. "I don't think so at all, I think these freshmen have understand they have an opportunity. There's no pressure on this team, three returners, 10 new players, we're a work in progress. We have our own expectations internally that are so much more than anybody could put on us. So, I just keep talking to these guys about opportunity versus pressure, and I thought they did a great job tonight embracing that."
George Dixon led the Panthers with 13 points, while Jordan Skipper-Brown added 10 points in their season opener.
Texas Tech will return to action at 7 p.m. against Bethune-Cookman at the USA before traveling to Midland to play Houston Baptist next Wednesday.
"I just want to start by recognizing the crowd. I guess this is my 14th season at Texas Tech Basketball and that's the best opening crowd I've seen. There won't be a better crowd in all of college basketball tonight, no matter where the game is played, than we just had here in Lubbock, Texas. So just a sincere thank you. Just so happy for our guys to go out there and see Red Raider Nation show up in force. Special thank you to our students… looks like I'll be going to a wedding here this summer, TJ, would you like to go to the wedding with me? A great crowd, I want to thank the students for coming out, I want to thank the season ticket holders for coming. There's probably some season ticket holders tonight that couldn't be here but it was obvious to me that our loyal season ticket holders gave their tickets to people tonight because all those seats were filled by my eyes. And just a special thank you, so internally with our marketing and promotions and everybody that put work in to this, just to everybody at Texas Tech, thank you for a great opening crowd. A lot of respect for our opponent tonight, I predict confidently they're going to have a great season. Jay's put together a good team, with returners and junior college players. I'm so proud of my junior college background that I always pull for teams that have junior college players and I predict Eastern Illinois will have a great season, so best wishes to those guys."
On if the version of what he saw Ramsey as tonight was the same as when he recruited him:
"I think one of the best things about Ramsey is how aggressive he is. Tonight, it points in a game when he was aggressive, he was really good. It will be great him learning film tomorrow. The great thing about Ramsey is that he wants to be good. We've got some young guys, him in that group, that study the game as much as any young players I've been around. I'm happy for all of those freshmen tonight. It's so hard to win a game at this level, understand that Eastern Illinois has been preparing for this since the summer and a lot's gone in to this. I'm happy for those guys to get the first win together."
On The newcomers and getting "over" past history:
"It's a new season, every season is different. Sometimes even if the same players come back, it's a new season. You know I'll never get tired of hearing about the past teams, but it's a season, it really is and I thought our guys did a good job of embracing that. I give our older guys a lot of credit. This team was ready to play tonight against a team that we had a lot of respect for."
On Avery Benson's performance:
"Avery has done a great job the off season, putting him in a position where he can take the next step in his career. He's done so much for us, the first two years and now it's going to be more on the court. He's a guy we trust. Tonight, the game opened up a little bit, we were able to get the young guys some minutes, but Avery is someone that's in our rotation right now."
On Defensive communication. Particularly TJ's role in that area:
"First of all, with TJ, he played very aggressive tonight. You guys got to see the things we saw in him during the recruiting process. Thought there was a point in the second half where he was the best player on the floor and that's what you hope for with grad transfers, not to put all the pressure on his shoulders, but he understands that when he came to Texas Tech he walked into a great opportunity. There were some expectations for him tonight and I was really proud of how aggressive he was. In terms of communication, it's always a challenge with a new team, a young team. Tonight, there was some real times where we communicated well and there were some other times where it looked like we needed to practice again tonight. So, we're a work in progress… there's going to be highs, there's going to be some lows, we're just going to stay the course. But I do think we have the talent where we can have a good season, if everything goes right.
On the inside game that opened up later on:
"Good offense no matter how you play, fast, slow, outside, inside, good offense forms inside out. So, we spend a lot of time talking about paint touches, penetration, post feeds. I thought we had a great balance tonight getting to the paint and they created opportunities on the perimeter. That's no secret inside-out is a part of college basketball, but our guys did a good job tonight. We can get better, but it was a good start."
SENIOR FORWARD TJ HOLYFIELD
On what worked to get everyone open:
"The way that we prepared our offense, the way we all worked together, it's easy for us to get easy baskets sometimes."
On the freshmen's performance:
"Not just Ramsey and TJ, but all the freshmen… I thought they all did a good job and they all contributed to the win. Big spark, they're very important from the start of the game, all credit to them."
On future accomplishments as a team:
"We're still a new team, this is our first college win together. We only have three returners from last year and ten new guys. We're still just trying to play together, getting to know each other in the field, learning each other's strengths and weaknesses… it'll come in the perfect time."