AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas guard Kerwin Roach had already missed two games with a fractured left hand and was supposed to be on the bench for at least one more.
Even when X-rays showed Roach’s hand was healing quickly and he suited up for pregame warmups, Longhorns coach Shaka Smart didn’t think his sophomore guard would play against No. 8 Texas Tech.
Then came a sly hint from the team trainer just before tipoff.
“I literally was walking out on the court at the beginning of the game and turned to the trainer and said, ‘Can (Roach) play or not?’ And he winked at me. That’s how I found out,” Smart said.
Roach had a huge night in his surprise return, scoring 20 points and igniting Texas’ offense as the Longhorns earned their second home win over a ranked opponent in a week, beating the Red Raiders 67-58.
Roach said he hadn’t done anything in practice for the past two weeks other than conditioning drills.
“It really was a game-time decision. The first half, I was nervous. I settled my nerves with my first bucket,” Roach said.
That was an early 3-pointer from the corner. The moment it swished through, Roach jogged back down the court with a big smile while nodding his head.
The Longhorns – who beat then-No. 16 TCU 99-98 in double-overtime last Wednesday – also played their best defense in weeks, anchored by freshman center Mo Bamba under the basket. Bamba had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
“He’s special,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “I think he could block the moon and the sun. He’s got great timing.”
Texas (12-6, 3-3 Big 12) led by 13 early in the second half before the Red Raiders rallied to get within four. But the Longhorns got two big 3-pointers by Eric Davis Jr., including one with 3:28 left that pushed the lead back to 10.
Davis had averaged 20 points the previous two games, but had been lost in the Longhorns offense until his late baskets gave Texas a much-needed boost.
“He was frustrated earlier in the game. You could see it in his face, his body language wasn’t good. If this was a different era of basketball, I might have grabbed him and shaken him,” Smart said.
Jarrett Culver scored 16 points to lead Texas Tech (15-3, 4-2).
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are having their best season in years and Beard has them contending for the Big 12 title. But they missed a chance to pick up an important road win and dropped their 22nd consecutive game in Austin. The Red Raiders haven’t beaten Texas in Austin since 1996, when both programs were in the old Southwest Conference.
“It’s really early in this race,” Beard said. “The Big 12 doesn’t even really start until February. Everybody is jockeying for position.”
Texas: The Longhorns will get a shot of confidence in an inconsistent season with another big win. Most of all the Longhorns showed they can protect a big lead, even if just barely. Texas let a double-digit second half lead get away in a crushing road loss at Oklahoma State last week.
“We wanted our guys to be aggressive, confident and loose,” Smart said.
Texas has given away games with late turnovers and it appeared it could happen again, when three in a 3-minute span helped the Red Raiders get within 47-43. But Texas cleaned up the sloppy ball handling and had just two more over the final 8 minutes.
“We’ve been here before,” Bamba said. “We just have to take care of the ball, All the games we’ve lost, it was (not) taking care of the ball.”
Texas played its third game since the program announced that starting guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia and is undergoing treatment. Opponents continue to find ways to express support for his recovery. Texas Tech players honored Jones in the pregame ceremonies by wearing jackets with his name and jersey No. 1.
A fundraising website set up by Texas has raised more than $100,000.
Texas Tech plays at Iowa State
Texas plays at No. 6 West Virginia
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