Playing No. 22 Texas Tech in Lubbock was just another game for sophomore guard Courtney Ramey. He followed his usual pregame routine, staying on the court for a few minutes after the team finished its warmup to hit a half-court shot.
The early arriving Tech student section didn’t care. They jeered relentlessly, making fun of Ramey for missing his first few attempts. But on the third try, he nailed the 47-footer. The student section let out an exasperated groan, and Ramey showed his slyest grin.
Ramey and redshirt sophomore guard Andrew Jones’ shotmaking staved off the raucous crowd as Texas went into Lubbock on Saturday and came out with a 68-58 upset victory.
“(The crowd’s) interests are different than your interests, so there’s going to be some going at each other,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said he told his players before the game. “We are going to play this game against Texas Tech’s team, and this crowd is going to do everything they can to insert themselves in the game.”
The Tech crowd made itself heard from the start. They trolled Texas with “NIT!” chants during the player introduction, expletive chants and signs making fun of Texas’ attendance struggles at the Frank Erwin Center.
But it took less than two minutes for freshman forward Kai Jones to temporarily silence the crowd just like Ramey, this time with a 3-pointer from the right wing. An and-one play from Tech freshman guard Terrence Shannon Jr. brought Red Raider fans back to their feet minutes later, creating an atmosphere Texas has only experienced at Kansas this year.
“This is a great atmosphere, one of the best in the league and maybe even the country,” Jones said. “Regardless of the small play –– air ball, turnover, a shot for them –– they go crazy. (But) I think we handled the hostile crowd pretty well.”
The crowd even managed to reveal a side of Smart not seen before as he drew his second technical fouls in as many games for the first time in his career. The Tech crowd made sure he knew about it, shouting, “Sit down, Shaka!”
But the relentless taunting didn’t have the effect Tech fans hoped for. Smart says the team fed off the opposing crowd's energy.
It was a recurring theme –– every time Tech fans rose up, Texas answered. No retaliation was bigger than junior forward Royce Hamm Jr.’s putback on a Ramey miss to put Texas up by four with 50 seconds left.
“I was going all after it,” Hamm said. “My mindset was just (to) attack the glass, whether it goes in or not. Happily, the ball bounced off at the right time and to the right place, and I was able to put it in.”
Texas’ fourth-straight Big 12 win has thrown Texas back into NCAA Tournament contention and splashed water on Smart’s hot seat. With a road trip to rival Oklahoma and a final home game against last-place Oklahoma State coming up, Texas’ hopes of sneaking into the tournament look promising.
So can a Texas team once considered dead in the water find its way to the Big Dance?
“We’re going to do our best,” Jones said. “We’re going to keep fighting.”