Texas Tech coach Chris Beard entered the men’s NCAA Tournament with one of the best tourney winning percentages among the 68 coaches: A record of 9-3 following a 2018 Sweet 16 appearance and 2019 national runner-up finish. Before that, he led Arkansas Little Rock to a first-round upset in 2017.
On Sunday, his team – a dark-horse to get to the Final Four – succumbed to pressure in the closing stretch and watched Arkansas claim a down-to-the-wire 68-66 win and Sweet 16 ticket.
The Red Raiders (18-11) had their chances. Mac McClung missed a potential game-tying free throw with 1:15 left, and Terrence Shannon Jr. missed a point-blank layup that would have given Tech the lead with 37 seconds left.
But the biggest “what if” might have come on the very last play of the game, when Kyler Edwards’ driving layup with three seconds left shot hard off the backboard. Arkansas’ JD Notae grabbed the rebound to close out the game. Was Edwards fouled? Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley thought so, saying as much on the broadcast.
Arkansas’ Justin Smith, who was defending Edwards on the final play, told reporters after the game, “I think Edwards was dribbling up and (they) were going to set that screen. They set it up high, so me and JD (Notae), we communicated and switched onto him, because we really didn’t want them to get a 3 … So we really forced them off the 3-point line. He drove it and I was able to get a good contest and he missed it.”
A more important question: Should Beard have called a timeout? He had one left. Tech looked frantic, and Edwards was seemingly trying to get the ball to point guard McClung for a play set, or Kevin McCullar for a better one-on-one isolation.
Trailing by two could have given Beard the opportunity to set up a game-tying – or even game-winning – play. More notably, he could have settled his players down. Those types of judgment calls will always be debated after close games. Beard was trusting his players in a difficult situation that they had likely practiced. But did it cost Texas Tech a shot at the Sweet 16?
It’s hard to argue against a better shot attempt. Then again, Edwards also might have been fouled.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.