SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Texas Tech head coach Mark Adams knows the value of a good story. He’s living one. The 65-year-old native of Brownfield – about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock – is in his first year as the head coach of his alma mater. The first thing out of his mouth on Thursday was in recognition of that.
“It just hits home when I see my name in March Madness,” Adams said smiling, moments after he strolled to the press conference podium and saw his name card.
Adams then quickly turned the attention off of him.
“This has been an unbelievable journey,” he said. “If you had time to interview our guys individually, they all have a great story about how they’ve overcome adversity to be here.”
This week, though, Adams has tapped into one player’s story in particular, and it isn’t about overcoming adversity.
Texas Tech senior Kevin Obanor enters the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a unique experience. He’s a starter for the third-seeded Red Raiders, a favorite to not only win against Montana State on Friday at Viejas Arena, but spend more than a couple games in the tournament. Last year, he was on the other side of things – a versatile playmaker for No. 15 Oral Roberts, a team expected to be a footnote in No. 2 Ohio State’s March Madness mission.
Obanor and former Jesuit guard Max Abmas then became one of the stories of the tournament, beating Ohio State and beating Florida before nearly winning a third game against Arkansas, only to lose by two points.
Obanor has lived the life of an underdog. And now that he’s on the other side of things, he’s using his personal experience to teach his Texas Tech teammates a lesson.
“Anybody can be beat,” Obanor said.
“And don’t take your competitor lightly.”
Because he knows better. Last season, Oral Roberts – the Summit League’s conference champion – entered the tournament with a 16-10 record. Ohio State, meanwhile, entered with a 21-9 record.
Obanor said the optics of the matchup didn’t phase Oral Roberts. He used the cliché that Ohio State put on their shoes the same way they did at Oral Roberts because his team believed in that mentality a year ago. And then they went out and showed why, beating Ohio State 75-72. Obanor had a game-high 30 points that game. It was only the ninth time in tournament history a 15 seed beat a two seed.
Upsets happen every year in the tournament. Richmond, a team that wouldn’t have been in the field without a conference tournament win, beat No. 5 Iowa in the seventh game of the tournament on Thursday.
In Obanor, Texas Tech had the chance to get inside the psyche of an underdog and analyze how an upset can happen, something the Red Raiders are trying to avoid on Friday.
“People are fighting for their lives,” Obanor said. “It’s truly a hungry game out here and it’s all or nothing. This is where people make plays and just really have that mindset to come out and compete, because once it’s done, it’s done.”
This week, Adams tapped into Obanor’s story. He said his program often shares experiences, but this weekend marked a relevant time to hear from Obanor.
“He just talked about his feelings and all. It was enlightening,” Adams said of Obanor. “I thought it was informative. Our Guys learned from it.”
And they don’t want to learn from their own experience on Friday just how dangerous an underdog can be, especially after watching film on Montana State. The Big Sky champions went 27-7 and nearly beat Colorado, the only Power Five team the Bobcats played this season.
“We mirror each other in a lot of ways,” Adams said, even joking that Montana State coach Danny Sprinkle took his cue cards and talking points in a previous interview.
“You look at teams, their strengths and weaknesses, and we just don’t see many weaknesses with this team. They share the ball, they’re patient on offense, which is going to put a lot of stress on us. We’ll have to work a little longer and harder on defense, and they’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the ball, so they will be a huge challenge for us.”
And not a team the Red Raiders plan to take lightly. Obanor’s story taught them that.
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