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Streaking Texas Tech sees challenge in road-tested North Alabama

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Texas Tech rings in the new year on Monday with a visit from a non-conference opponent with some miles on its tires and the confidence to be a potential problem.

North Alabama heads to Lubbock after a 10-day break and figures to be a different kind of test than the Red Raiders have encountered during a five-game winning streak.

This is the fourth road game against a high-major program this season for the Lions (6-7), including an 83-66 loss at Indiana on Dec. 21 in their most recent action. North Alabama is 0-3 so far in those games but led Kansas State by as many as 13 points and for all but the last eight seconds of the second half before falling in overtime on Dec. 2. The Lions never led but were in the hunt against the Hoosiers into the second half.

With a blend of young players and transfer portal additions from small-college programs, North Alabama has proved to be a tricky challenge for most foes because of a solid defense (74.4 points allowed per game) and offensive balance. Six rotation regulars average between 7.2 and 13.6 points a game.

KJ Johnson leads the Lions with 13.6 points a game and should be closer to full strength after missing three games in December with an ankle injury. Jacari Lane supplies 13.3 points a game and leads the team with a 4.4-assist average, while Tim Smith Jr. has connected on 20 3-pointers on the way to 9.8 points an outing.

“This is a good test for us before we jump into conference play,” said Texas Tech coach Grant McCasland, whose team starts down the Big 12 Conference path on Saturday at Texas. “North Alabama plays the game in a physical way. This is the kind of team we wanted to play in our nonconference schedule to prepare us for what’s ahead.”

The prep work so far for the Red Raiders (10-2) has been solid enough to earn a No. 40 ranking on KenPom.com. Texas Tech went 5-0 in December after an overtime loss at Butler on Nov. 30, winning by an average of 20.8 points per game. The last win was the Red Raiders’ most lopsided of the season, 96-60 against Sam Houston State, and the most positive sign from that was Pop Isaacs’ breakout performance.

In a season-long shooting slump, the sophomore erupted for a career-high 28 points vs. Sam Houston State, bolstered by five 3-pointers. He upped his season scoring average to a team-leading 15.4 points with that outburst. Joe Toussaint has been a steady source of offense with 14.8 points a contest and he leads the Red Raiders with 4.1 assists per game.

Those two guards will be prominent on the scouting report for North Alabama after Indiana’s guards came up big and the team racked up 12 3s and 25 assists. The Lions couldn’t answer and unraveled offensively after halftime, hitting just 36.1 percent from the floor (13 of 36) and even worse from deep (5 of 19 from 3-point range) in the second half.

“They just overwhelmed us from an offensive standpoint,” North Alabama coach Tony Pujol said of Indiana. “Our guys competed. We had some shots we missed that were open and we didn’t take advantage of.”

–Field Level Media

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