Red and white confetti flew when underdog and No. 3 seed Texas Tech beat No. 1 seed Gonzaga 75–69 in the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Tech celebrated their program’s first ever trip to a Final Four by cutting down the nets in Anaheim, California, and letting loose to “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X in the locker room.
Coach Chris Beard soon came to the press conference with four players. He did not bring the game’s high scorer, Jarrett Culver—who is also a hometown hero, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and a likely first round NBA Draft pick. He did not bring Davide Moretti, who nailed a three-pointer with a little over a minute left to play to create a six-point cushion for the Red Raiders before he finished Gonzaga off with some clutch free throws.
No, Beard quickly pointed out his choice for the podium: “This is easy, how about our four seniors? The backbone of our team. Norense and Brandone, a big part of our success. Tariq and Matt as grad transfers buying into our culture so quickly. It's like they've been here for their whole careers. I've always loved our seniors, but never been more proud than the four guys to my left right now. They're really the story of Tech basketball this year.”
Texas Tech landed former Florida guard Francis as one of Chris Beard's first commits after he took the job in Lubbock. Francis is from humble beginnings in La Romana, Dominican Republic. He was a top high school recruit coming out of Arlington Country Day School and then played at Florida for coach Billy Donovan for two years. He sat out the 2016-2017 season and had a few bumps in the road during the transition to Texas Tech. Francis emerged a leader on this team who has played a pivotal role in the Red Raiders success. Oh, and he can rap in Spanish.
Starting center Odiase committed to Texas Tech in March of 2014, when Beard was coaching at Division II Angelo State and more than two years before Tubby Smith left for Memphis. That makes him the most senior member of the team.
Coach Beard often refers to him as “the captain.” He is originally from Fort Worth, Texas and extremely close to his family. At 6’9”, 255 pounds, he’s an inside force who plans to play at the next level.
The key to making up for talented lost seniors from last season was graduate transfers. One of the best was former St. John’s big man Owens. Beard pulled a rabbit out of a hat when he lured Owens to Tech over Maryland. Owens started his college career at Tennessee but transferred to St. John’s after his freshman season. Although he played only two seasons with the Red Storm, his 163 blocks rank fifth all-time in school history.
Mooney attended Notre Dame College Prep, graduating in 2013. According to 24/7 Sports, his only Division I offer came from Air Force and he was an unranked prospect.
The crystal ball got that one wrong. Mooney spent one year at the Air Force before becoming a star guard at South Dakota. He started all 68 games for his two seasons in the Summit League and established himself as a long-range shooter. Another graduate transfer, Mooney chose Tech over Northwestern and Creighton. Mooney earned all-tournament team honors in Anaheim after averaging 18.5 points and 3.5 assists.
Texas Tech will meet Michigan State in Minneapolis on Saturday at 2:49pm EST, and they will again be the underdog.
Coach Beard’s feelings about his seniors will be on full display. He left Anaheim emotionally, stating, “I'm glad I get to coach ’em again. The Final Four is awesome and all that, but the most cool thing is I get to coach these guys again. We get to get after it again in practice and travel and spend time together. That's going to be a special week for us.”
It could be very special indeed if these four veterans have anything to say about it.
Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images