LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Zhaire Smith got the steal and then was on the finishing end of an alley-oop dunk for No. 7 Texas Tech.
That highlight play by the freshman guard, part of his career-high 21 points, put an end to a quick Iowa State run, and the Red Raiders went on to a 76-58 victory Wednesday night for their fifth straight win.
“We’re going to try to keep this thing rolling,” coach Chris Beard said. “It’s a special time of the year for college basketball when you’re relative. We’ve worked really hard in our second year here, and I think we’re relative in the month of February.”
Texas Tech (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) is the first Big 12 team to reach 20 wins overall and is tied with No. 10 Kansas (19-5, 8-3) atop the conference standings.
The Cyclones (12-11, 3-8) had just scored seven straight points in a 77-second span after halftime to get within one. Smith then knocked the ball away from Lindell Wigginton and passed it on the break to fellow freshman Jarrett Culver, who then lobbed the alley-oop pass.
“He jumps out of the gym, so I know if I just throw it up, he’s going to probably dunk it,” Culver said. “His big dunk gave us momentum, and made us be aggressive on defense and gave us energy.”
Keenan Evans then added another two-handed dunk for the Red Raiders.
“We just feed off each other,” Culver said.
Smith hit a 3-pointer for Texas Tech’s first points in the game. After that everything he made was inside (two layups and four dunks) as he finished 7 of 8 from the field. He also made all six of his free throws.
Culver added 16 points for the Red Raiders, whose last loss was 70-52 at Iowa State on Jan. 20. Evans scored 15.
Cameron Lard had a career-high 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting for short-handed Iowa State. He played only 20 minutes before fouling out. Wigginton scored 13.
“We do have moments. It’s trying to figure out how to get consistency,” coach Steve Prohm said. “And seven or eight guys, that may play a part.”
When Iowa State was within a point before halftime, Smith scored seven in a 12-2 run. His run-capping dunk gave Tech its first double-digit lead at 35-24.
“He’s getting better. It sounds like Captain Obvious, but it’s what everyone wants to do,” Beard said. “Your team wants to get better throughout the year, and each individual player wants to get better. Z is doing that.”
Iowa State: The Cyclones have been to a school-record six NCAA Tournaments in a row, but that streak could be in serious jeopardy. They have lost four of their last five games, and are in a stretch of three straight against ranked opponents.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 15-0 at home this season and have won 16 in a row there since an 82-80 loss to Iowa State last February. They have matched their highest Top 25 ranking in school history and already surpassed last season’s totals of 18 wins overall and six Big 12 wins.
Cyclones junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb missed his second straight game, and likely will miss more, because of left knee tendinitis. He is the only player in the nation averaging at least 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game. Iowa State was down to eight available players, with senior forward Hans Brase also out due to a knee issue. Then guard Jakolby Long played only 14 minutes while dealing with an illness.
Evans had averaged 28 points in his four games since being held to seven on 2-of-12 shooting in the earlier loss to Iowa State. In the rematch, he was only 3-of-13 shooting before making his last three shots. He scored Tech’s last eight points.
Iowa State also faces Top 25 opponents in its next two games, Saturday against No. 17 Oklahoma and next Tuesday night against No. 10 Kansas.
Texas Tech plays three of its next four on the road. The Red Raiders play Saturday night at Kansas State, a team they beat by 16 points at home on Jan. 6.
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