As somber Texas Tech worries 'nobody remembers second place,' no one will soon forget these Red Raiders
Virginia edged Texas Tech in overtime of the national title game to end the best season in Red Raiders history
"I'm not taking this shit off," said Francis, a guard, said to his fellow senior transfers.
Francis was referring to the uniform he'd worn for the 75th and final time for the Red Raiders. As he said it, Francis sat clutching the hands of Mooney, whose hanging head would not meet his gaze. Owens, playing his fifth season for his third team, gave a slight tug on his No. 11 jersey.
"I'm not going to lie," Owens said, "I might put this in a frame."
It's amazing how the young psyche works. A few minutes before these Red Raiders were literally wailing in anguish. Texas Tech's assassin on this night was Virginia, 35 years without a Final Four, now champions forever.
"Man, I wanted to win so bad," Francis cried to no one in particular as he walked to the locker room.
For all to hear in the cavernous U.S Bank Stadium hallway, he told his coach Chris Beard, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Wait, for what?
"For not winning, man," Francis said. "We put everything into this. Nobody remembers second place."
Francis could find no disagreements after Texas Tech's 85-77 loss to Virginia in the national championship game.
"Nobody's going to remember second place," Owens agreed. "He's right. It's true. We've been the underdogs all year. Nobody's going to remember us."
A harsh analysis but this is a glimpse of losing in the moment. A team that was picked seventh in the 10-team Big 12 won a share of the championship. On the way to the national championship game, it knocked off a No. 1 seed Gonzaga, a No. 2 seed Michigan State with an average margin of victory of 14 points.
Then the Red Raiders met their equal. For the second consecutive game Virginia blew a 10-point second half lead and trailed by three late.
When Texas Tech's Norense Odiase sank two free throws with 22.5 seconds left, the Red Raiders led 68-65.
"I thought it was over," Odiase said. "We just needed one more stop."
As this tournament taught us, it's never over. Auburn got here after losing its best inside player then beating Kentucky in overtime. Duke didn't even make it this far, falling to a Michigan State that lost to Texas Tech by 10.
That one more stop never came. Virginia's De'Andre Hunter bombed a three from the corner with 12.9 seconds left. Overtime. Tech took its last lead with 2:45 left in the OT. Virginia closed with a 13-4 flourish. What was left was one of the best championship games in history.
For those who declared this matchup the end of stylistic basketball, turn in your United States Basketball Writers Association cards.
"I heard people were saying it's going to be an ugly game, two defensive teams," Mooney said. "I feel like we were the two best teams in the country."
But only one could do snow angels in the confetti. The fairy dust just didn't run out on Virginia. The results of its last three games were as follows:
- An overtime win against Purdue.
- Game-winning free-throws with less than a second to go against Auburn.
- An overtime win against Tech.
"College basketball is the best education I think you can get," Chris Beard told his players.
In the moment, Beard's players weren't soothed. Big 12 player of the year Jarrett Culver took 22 shots to get his 15 points. While not exactly a no-show, he did get out played by Hunter, a fellow projected lottery pick (a career-high 27 points).
Nobody remembers second place?
"It's a true statement," Culver said. "We're all family. It's something we'll cherish for the rest of our lives, but I understand where [Francis is] coming from."
"Nobody remembers second place," Odiase agreed. "We did a great job this year, but in this moment, an opportunity like this you can't buy."
These Red Raiders were relatable, likeable. There was no evident scandal to tarnish their Final Four moment. When NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes flexed on the U.S. Bank scoreboard during a timeout, he was almost willing the Red Raiders to victory.
With 8 minutes left, Tech trailed 55-47, andThe Red Raiders went on a 12-4 run to tie it.
There was something at work, just not enough of it for Texas Tech. Virginia won its first championship but you got the feeling Texas Tech will be back.
Beard will have to replace four seniors, five players altogether if Culver declares early.
Whatever happens from here on, they'll remember the night they cried and laughed – at least smiled -- the hardest.
"Coach Beard, he's going to get back," Owens said. "He's going to win him a title. This isn't the last time you're going to see Texas Tech up here on stage."
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