LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Kevin McCullar and the Texas Tech Red Raiders were celebrating a return to the national rankings and awaiting a big test to try to stay there.
They didn’t stumble against the overmatched opponent that came first.
McCullar scored 21 points, and No. 25 Texas Tech never trailed in a 75-62 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
The Red Raiders (8-1), national finalists in 2019, were coming off a five-point overtime victory against then-No. 13 Tennessee that got them ranked in The Associated Press’ Top 25 for the first time under first-year coach Mark Adams.
Now Texas Tech faces fifth-ranked Gonzaga in a neutral-site game in Phoenix on Saturday. It’s a matchup of the past two teams to lose in the NCAA title game after the Zags fell to Baylor, one of Texas Tech’s Big 12 rivals, in April.
“Their record and their program speaks for itself,” said Adams, who was an assistant on Chris Beard’s staff when Texas Tech beat Gonzaga in the Elite 8 in 2019 on the way to an overtime loss to Virginia in the NCAA title game.
“Nothing against Virginia, but we feel like Gonzaga might have been the toughest team we played. That game we played extremely well and basically just outscored Gonzaga. We’ll have to have that kind of performance this Saturday.”
Winthrop transfer Adonis Arms scored 15 points, and Bryson Williams, who came in from UTEP, added 12. The pair combined with McCullar to go 17 of 24 from the field as the Red Raiders shot 56%.
Markise Davis scored 17 points and Marquis Eaton added 15 for Arkansas State (7-3), which led the series 3-1 coming in and had won the most recent meeting 79-76 in Lubbock in 1993.
“These are the games our program needs to start winning to get on a national scale,” said Arkansas State coach Mike Balado, whose team cut into a 24-point second-half deficit. “I was so proud of the way we played. We shared the ball. Nobody cared about numbers. We just wanted to win the game.”
McCullar, Arms and Williams combined to go 7 of 11 from 3-point range, accounting for all of Texas Tech’s made 3s. McCullar was 3 of 6 and Arms 2 of 3, while Williams made both of his attempts.
Davion Warren missed all four of his shots from long range and still finished with 11 points while tying McCullar for the team high with five rebounds.
Marcus Santos-Silva, who was limited to three minutes against Tennessee because of a sprained big toe, scored all six of his points during a 25-6 run that gave Texas Tech its first 20-point lead at 41-21. Santos-Silva went scoreless against the Volunteers, a first for the Virginia Tech transfer in a season-plus with the Red Raiders.
Arkansas State: Two of the Red Wolves’ three losses have been in true road games against ranked teams. The other was 92-53 against preseason No. 11 Illinois in the second game. Even though the Illini have since dropped out of the poll, both games should help prepare Arkansas State for the Sun Belt Conference schedule.
Texas Tech: The new ranking means the Red Raiders have been in the AP poll five consecutive seasons, beating the previous best of four in a row from 2001-05 under Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight. The first four in this run were with Beard, who left to coach Texas, his alma mater.
Terrence Shannon Jr., who missed the start of the season to get eligibility issues sorted out after he explored his options with the NBA draft, didn’t play in the second half because of back spasms. He has dealt with the issue before.
Shannon, who scored in double figures in each of his first five games, finished with two points in 16 minutes. He was 1 of 2 from the field.
TWO NIGHTS TO FORGET
Desi Sills, Arkansas State’s leading scorer at 16 points per game coming in, missed all six of his shots, including four from long range, and scored three points. He did have nine assists.
The Red Wolves’ No. 2 scorer, Norchad Omier, had five points while only attempting four shots, making two.
Arkansas State: Air Force visits Sunday to start a four-game homestand.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 3-0 against Gonzaga, with victories in 2005, 2007 before the Elite 8 win.
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