TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Jarrett Culver had 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to help No. 3 seed Texas Tech shake off a slow start and beat No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky 72-57 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Tariq Owens scored 12 points and Davide Moretti had 10 for Texas Tech (27-6), which had won nine straight games to share the Big 12 regular-season title before losing to lowly West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. That left them with an eight-day layoff.
It showed early on against Northern Kentucky (26-9), which got 23 points from Tyler Sharpe and 11 from Dantez Walton while giving the Red Raiders everything they could handle in the West Region.
The Norse were still within 34-31 on Sharpe’s three foul shots with 18:06 left, despite leading scorer and Horizon League player of the year Drew McDonald unable to get on track.
But the Red Raiders, one of the best defensive teams in the nation, finally responded with a 13-3 run to take control. They opened their first double-digit lead during a stretch in which they connected on eight of 10 shots from the floor, and they never led by fewer than 10 the rest of the way.
Still, it was another strong showing as a No. 15 seed for Northern Kentucky, which is in just its third season of active Division I basketball. The Norse lost to Kentucky 79-70 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament two years ago.
It was also another strong start to the tournament for Texas Tech and Big 12 coach of the year Chris Beard. The Red Raiders were thought to be rebuilding after their trip to the Elite Eight and the loss of several key players, but they proved during the chops during the regular season.
Culver has been in the middle of everything, too.
His league’s player of the year was 10 of 17 from the floor, hit a trio of 3-pointers and even had an assist and a block with only one turnover against Northern Kentucky. The projected NBA lottery pick has scored at least 26 points in each of his past three games.
Northern Kentucky has won two Horizon League tournament title and at least a share of two regular season titles. It’s been an almost unprecedented level of quick, sustained success.
Texas Tech continued the kind of stingy defense that held opponents to an average of 37.1 percent shooting over the course of its recent winning streak. Northern Kentucky shot 37.1 percent, too, after the Norse entered the tournament averaging 79.1 points per game.
Texas Tech advanced to the second round Sunday against the Buffalo-Arizona State winner.