BOSTON — It didn’t have a storybook ending. There was no confetti. No net cutting.
And yet, Sunday was a big day for a program that has long fought to get out of the shadow of other Big 12 giants.
No. 3 seeded Texas Tech was unable to continue its historic run Sunday, as top-seeded Villanova advanced to the Final Four with a 71-59 win at TD Garden. The Red Raiders will lose five seniors, all of whom elected to stick with the program following the coaching change that brought coach Chris Beard in two years ago.
Two years ago, the Red Raiders finished seventh in the Big 12 and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward two years. Beard and Texas Tech came within two games of ending Kansas’ 14-year run atop the Big 12 and made the program’s first Elite Eight in its 93-year history.
Beard, a career journeyman head coach, made stops at every level before landing the Texas Tech job prior to the 2016-17 season. In two seasons, he has taken the Red Raiders from a middling Big 12 program to the precipice of the Final Four.
The 45-year-old head coach is grateful for the faith those kids showed in him.
“I just want to recognize our team,” Beard said after the loss. “I’m just so appreciative of our seniors during the coaching change and sticking with us. And to almost get to that final weekend, I think speaks a lot about those guys, their character. Proud of our five seniors. And I told our young guys, we’ll do everything we can in the next 364 days to be back here.”
If you would have told Beard before the game that his team would hold the Wildcats to 33 percent from the field, 16.7 percent from the 3-point line, while winning the second-chance points battle and making more field goals, he would have taken that every day.
But it wasn’t enough.
While some coaches might point to the number of foul calls that went the Wildcats’ way as the difference in the game, Beard wasn’t about to do that.
“I thought they demanded fouls on their end,” Beard said. “And we just didn’t get to the free-throw line as much as we needed to. But ultimately, we’re a no-excuse program, so we’ll just have to go back and use this to help us coach better int he future.”
The Red Raiders left TD Garden having made history without earning a trophy. They’ll never be forgotten by their fans, but their run will be lost to the annals of NCAA Tournament history.
But the pride in their accomplishment always will remain.
“Well, it turned them all into men,” Beard said of his team’s run, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They’re going to be great husbands, fathers and winners. They are big-time people. They helped us establish the program and we’re going to play in a lot more games like this.”
Beard will go back to his office in Lubbock, Texas, thinking about what could have been Sunday against the country’s best team, and, more importantly, what was an unforgettable run for the 2017-18 Red Raiders.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images