AMES, Iowa — For the first time, Texas Tech can call itself champions of the Big 12.
After his performance on Saturday, Jarrett Culver might soon be able to call himself the league’s player of the year as well.
Culver scored a career-high 31 points, Davide Moretti added 20 and No. 8 Texas Tech clinched at least a share of the league title by beating Iowa State 80-73.
Kansas State could also claim a piece of the Big 12 championship if it beat Oklahoma later Saturday.
“I think you’ve got to give all of our players the credit. They’re the ones that believed,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, now in just his third season in charge. “You can imagine the outside noise. It starts in the recruiting process when people say, ‘Man, you can’t win the Big 12 at Texas Tech.’ I’ve always disagreed. You get the right people in the locker room, it’s all about culture and it’s all about belief and expectations.”
Matt Mooney added 13 points for the Red Raiders (26-5, 14-4 Big 12), winners of nine straight heading into the postseason. Their last league crown came in the defunct Southwestern Conference in 1996.
Lindell Wigginton and Marial Shayok each scored 17 points for the Cyclones (20-11, 9-9), who have lost six of eight. And even though Tech pulled through down the stretch, Iowa State’s performance was encouraging after a 15-point drubbing at West Virginia on Wednesday.
“I think we got better, and I think we came together,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
With the game tied at 65 with 3:37 left, Brandone Francis beat the shot clock with a contested 3 to give Tech the lead. Culver then hit a mid-range jumper after a turnover, and two free throws by Tariq Owens put the Red Raiders ahead 72-65 with 2:05 to go.
Culver’s layup with 59 seconds left made it 74-69, and he hit two free throws to put Tech up 76-71 30 seconds later. Culver finished shot 12 of 19 and 4 of 8 from 3-point range on a day when Prohm said he made “lottery pick-type plays.”
“We needed every one of those 31 points,” said Beard, who added that he’d vote for Culver as the league’s player of the year. “He’s just a special player.”
After trailing by as many as eight points, Texas Tech ran off 10 points in a row to jump ahead 51-45 early in the second half. Iowa State cut Tech’s lead to 57-55, but Culver hit back-to-back layups high off the glass to make it 62-55 with 6:57 left.
Owens was called for a flagrant foul with 4:15 left though, allowing Iowa State to tie it at 65 nine seconds later.
“We grew, and we’re ready for the postseason,” Iowa State’s Nick Weiler-Babb said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas Tech: Beard followed up an Elite Eight appearance with a conference title in just his third season in Lubbock. Even if Culver goes pro this spring, it appears the Red Raiders will be Big 12 contenders for years.
Iowa State: The Cyclones tweaked their lineup after their dismal showing against the Mountaineers. Freshman George Conditt got the rotational frontcourt minutes typically given to sophomore Cam Lard, and senior Zoran Talley was a much bigger part of the game plan. “It definitely felt like progress,” Shayok said.
The Red Raiders really did need Culver to pull them through, considering that the rest of the team shot just 16 of 46. …Michael Jacobson had 15 points and Talen Horton-Tucker scored 13 — all of which came in a stretch bookending the halves — for Iowa State. …Tech’s defense forced 14 Iowa State turnovers. …The Red Raiders went 13 of 13 from the line. …Iowa State, which typically plays its best at Hilton Coliseum, dropped four home games this season.
The league tournament starts Wednesday in Kansas City.