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Texas Tech beats Purdue, reaches Elite Eight for first time

Texas Tech's Brandone Francis, left, and Purdue's Dakota

Texas Tech's Brandone Francis, left, and Purdue's Dakota Mathias chase the ball during the first half of an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal Friday, March 23, 2018, in Boston. Credit: AP / Charles Krupa

BOSTON — For the first time in the history of a program that began in 1925, Texas Tech has made it to the Elite Eight. That’s great, the coach and players said, except that they have been around for only a few years. Plus, they are more focused on the next tomorrow as opposed to all those yesterdays.

“It’s amazing to share this moment with these guys and this coaching staff. We don’t want it to end,” said Keenan Evans (16 points), who helped to seal a 78-65 win over Purdue in an East Regional semifinal at TD Garden. “We feel like we have more work to do and we’re going to do that work.”

The work will not be easy for the No. 3 seed in the region. Texas Tech (27-9) will face top-seeded Villanova here Sunday for the right to reach the Final Four, but the Red Raiders are in the stage at which anything seems possible.

“Why shouldn’t we? We’ve got a great university,” coach Chris Beard said. “We play in the best league in college basketball. We’ve got really great players. We’re blessed to be here, but I think we’ve earned the right to be here.”

Zach Smith, who missed much of the season with a broken foot, looked strong against Purdue, scoring 14 points and highlighting the Red Raiders’ 33-6 advantage in bench points.

Purdue (30-7) was not as fortunate. Despite the brace that graduate engineering students had made for 7-2 senior center Isaac Haas, who broke his right elbow in a first-round game a week earlier, the hub of the Boilermakers’ offense never did get in the game. He simply could not do anything that involved that arm.

Without his offensive presence inside, the Boilermakers were prone to dry spells. They did not score in the final 3:43 of the first half, while Texas Tech roared through a 10-0 burst and took a 30-25 lead.

“You know, I hate to see great players not be able to play late in the season,” Beard said. “We’ve certainly had our share of adversity with injuries. So we feel for Purdue not being at full strength. But I think you’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit.”

When Purdue did make a run here and there, drawing within three several times, Evans came through. He was undaunted by having missed five of the first six shots he took. “My teammates, my coaching staff, they instill confidence in me even if I’m 1-for-9, 1-for-10,” he said. “Those moments, they need me to step up. Once I hit one shot and saw it go through the net, it kind of helped. My teammates just getting me the ball and helping me get open has done a lot.”

This time it was all historic, a feat not lost on Beard, who grew up in Texas and has had many coaching jobs in the state. “It’s special for a lot of reasons,” he said. “We all have a lot of pride in where we’re from and where we go to school and we respect everybody that came before us. But the main reason it’s special, by far, not even close, is these players.”

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