McCullar, Texas Tech beat Notre Dame 59-53 to reach Sweet 16
SAN DIEGO (AP) — With a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, Texas Tech’s swarming defense won out over Notre Dame’s vaunted 3-point shooting.
It certainly wasn’t artistic, and that’s OK with the Red Raiders, the top defensive team in the country.
No. 3 seed Texas Tech relied on stops and free throws during a closing 10-1 run that carried it to a 59-53 victory over the 11th-seeded Fighting Irish on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We have the mindset of not going home,” said forward Kevin Obanor, who hit two go-ahead free throws with 1:10 left and finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
It was such a workmanlike performance by the bigger, stronger Red Raiders that they won despite making one of their final 11 field goals. That was an emphatic dunk by Kevin McCullar with 15 seconds left.
“This is a March game. I’m so excited right now I can’t put it into words,” McCullar said. “It came down to defense. We knew we needed to get stops against a really good Notre Dame team. That’s what we ended up doing. And we hit some big free throws.”
McCullar and Bryson Williams each scored 14 points for Texas Tech (27-9), which made its third round of 16 in the past four tournaments and fifth in school history. The Red Raiders, under first-year coach Mark Adams, will face second-seeded Duke and retiring 42nd-year coach Mike Krzyzewski in the West Region semifinals Thursday in San Francisco.
Dane Goodwin scored 14 points for 11th-seeded Notre Dame (24-11), which led 52-49 with just over two minutes left. But the Fighting Irish didn’t make a field goal in the last three minutes and Texas Tech made eight straight free throws in the last 1:56, none more important than Obanor’s that made it 53-52 with 1:10 left.
Notre Dame had two turnovers in the final minute. Cormac Ryan was held to nine points after scoring a career-high 29 points, including seven 3-pointers, in a 78-64 win over Alabama in the first round.
McCullar’s slam ended a field goal drought of seven minutes for Texas Tech. He hit a 3-pointer with 7:17 to go, and from there, free throws were somehow enough.
“They’re really gifted and they are a great defensive team,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
The Fighting Irish were playing their third game in five days. They beat Rutgers in double overtime in a First Four game late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, and took a redeye to San Diego.
Notre Dame made 9 of 28 3-pointers, the last with about five minutes left, by Goodwin, for a 48-47 lead.
“We needed 11. We needed double digits,” Brey said. “And I thought when we got going in the second half ... we were going to have to drive. That’s why we went four guards the second half. We were driving and kicking. And we had to make 11 or 12 (3s) to win.”
Notre Dame was 15-1 this season when hitting double-digit 3-pointers.
“We were emphasizing it the whole game,” McCullar said. “They’re a really good-shooting team. We knew down the stretch that we had to eliminate that or the game probably wouldn’t have went our way.
“We made some big time plays on the defensive end,” he added “It was just our will. We didn’t want to send the seniors home yet. We want to keep playing basketball as long as we can and try to make a run at this thing. We’re so close and we buckled down.”
Texas Tech reached the Sweet 16 in 2018 and beat Purdue before losing by 12 points to eventual national champion Villanova in the regional final. The Red Raiders reached the national championship game in 2019 and lost to Virginia, 85-77 in overtime.
Asked what 1979 Texas Tech graduate Mark Adams would say to 2022 Texas Tech head coach Mark Adams about making the Sweet 16, Adams said: “I’d say dream big dreams and don’t ever give up on your dreams because there’s a certain time in my life when I was winning at certain levels and I thought I was the next John Wooden. And I was the only one in the room that thought that.”
The Red Raiders huddled up with less than a minute to go and Obanor said the Red Raiders were telling each other: “‘Are you trying to go home?’ No way to sugarcoat it. ‘Are you trying to go home?’ We just had that mindset to continue to play and we came out victorious.”
Notre Dame shot 25% in the first half, including 31.3% from the 3-point line. The Fighting Irish airballed three 3-pointers. Notre Dame went scoreless during a six-minute stretch early in the half, but Texas Tech couldn’t take advantage and led 26-25 at halftime.
Texas Tech’s Williams gets to continue to play in his home state. He started his career in his hometown with Fresno State before transferring to UTEP and then Texas Tech.
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