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Texas Tech pulls away in second half, posts 72-57 win over NKU in NCAA Tournament on Friday

TULSA, Okla. — Texas Tech used tough defense and projected NBA lottery pick Jarrett Culver’s superlative offensive performance to eliminate Northern Kentucky from the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Culver finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to lead No. 3 seed Texas Tech past 14th-seeded NKU by a 72-57 score in the opening round of the West Regional at the BOK Center. The 6-foot-6 Culver shot 10-for-17 from the field and buried a trio of 3-pointers as Texas Tech improved to 27-6.

Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens finishes off a dunk against NKU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon. (Texas Tech photo)

Culver, the Big 12 Player of the Year, netted 17 points in the second half as Texas Tech gradually pulled away from NKU.

“We really defended in the first half, despite struggling offensively. In the second half, those struggles offensively carried over to the defensive, which I was concerned about,” NKU head coach John Brannen said. “The gaps — listen, Culver is an NBA player, okay. He’s going to be in the NBA.

“(Texas Tech’s) physicality just kind of put us in situations that we weren’t comfortable with, and then we just didn’t shoot the ball well.”

After a close first half (30-26 at the break), Texas Tech started to control the paint defensively during the final 20 minutes, blocking seven NKU shots. The Red Raiders used a 13-3 run to extend a 34-31 lead into a 47-34 cushion and led by double figures the remainder of the game.

“We thought in the first half we played well offensively, we couldn’t make a free throw and we had too many turnovers,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said of his Red Raiders, who were 1-for-8 at the charity stripe in the first half. “Really kind of staying consistent with our original game plan with just an emphasis of getting a little bit more aggressive.”

The Red Raiders converted 53.6 percent of their attempts from the field in the second half and led by as many as 20 points.

Tyler Sharpe paced NKU (26-9) with 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field. The junior guard drained four shots from 3-point range and made all three of his free throws.

“They have some long athletic guys that can really get up and they make shots very tough, and they do a good job of going straight up without fouling,” Sharpe said of Texas Tech’s inside defenders. “I think they affected a lot of shots. Floaters and finishes at the rim we usually make were getting altered a little bit.”

Texas Tech held NKU leading scorer Drew McDonald to just five points on 2-for-13 shooting from the field. McDonald, a senior forward and the Horizon League Player of the Year, entered Friday averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He finished his career with 2,066 points and 1,081 rebounds, both NKU all-time records.

Tariq Owens scored 12 points and blocked five shots for Texas Tech, which won a share of the Big 12 Conference regular-season championship for the first time in program history. Owens, a 6-foot-10 senior center, set a Texas Tech record for blocks in an NCAA Tournament game with the five rejections.

The Red Raiders, one of the best defensive teams in the nation, held NKU to 37.1 percent shooting from the field. Texas Tech also made all nine of its free throws in the second half after the 1-for-8 showing at the line in the opening 20 minutes.

Junior forward Dantez Walton finished with 11 points and seven rebounds for NKU, while sophomore guard Jalen Tate added six points, six assists and four steals. Freshman forward Adrian Nelson chipped in six points and eight rebounds, which equaled his career-high for boards.

(Information compiled from Texas Tech, NKU Athletic Communications and staff reports)

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