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Texas Tech bullies Purdue, sets Villanova up for another physical battle

When a relieved Jay Wright stepped to the podium after Villanova’s 90-78 win over West Virginia, the first of two games in Boston on Friday night, some of the first words out of his mouth were about physicality.

“That was the most physical, physically demanding, mentally demanding 40 minutes we’ve played in a long time,” Wright said. “They’re so relentless. They keep coming at you.”

He was describing West Virginia. He might as well have been describing his next opponent, too.

If Wright had snuck back out onto the TD Garden court after fulfilling all his postgame responsibilities, he’d have seen Texas Tech beat Purdue, 78-65. He’d have seen a program advance to the Elite Eight for the first time. And he’d have seen a team hungry for more.

He’d also have seen a team that will provide his Wildcats with yet another grueling physical test. The Red Raiders locked up Purdue with a staunch defensive performance, and a repeat will be the East region’s last antidote for Villanova’s prolific offense.

Texas Tech defenders swarm Purdue’s Matt Haarms during Friday’s Sweet 16 game in Boston. (Getty)

Texas Tech forced 17 Purdue turnovers, and held Boilermakers not named Carsen Edwards to just 35 points. It held the nation’s second-most efficient offense to 0.94 points per possession.

So if Wright thought he and his team had just survived a physical battle, he’ll be in for another rude awakening on Sunday. Texas Tech, after its defensive masterclass on Friday, ascended to No. 3 on the adjusted defensive efficiency charts. Shortly after Nova put its top-ranked offense on display, the Red Raiders showed why they’re more capable of neutralizing it than any of the other six teams still standing.

Tech ran the Boilermakers off the 3-point line and forced them to make tough shots at the rim. Purdue, of course, was limited by the most impactful injury of the 2018 tournament – by the absence of Isaac Haas. The 7-foot-2 senior, who broke his elbow in the first round, was unable to go despite having a customized brace approved by the NCAA. Without him, Purdue’s inside-outside balance was off-kilter. His replacement, freshman Matt Haarms, had just four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes.

Texas Tech struggled at times on the offensive end, as it has at times throughout the season. It’s occasionally sputtering offense could prevent it from match Villanova. But a gradual second-half run, spurred not by made shots but by stops at the other end, allowed it to pull away late, and will give it a shot at the Wildcats.

“I thought it was one of our best defensive games,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard told TBS after the game.

It’s certainly the program’s best tournament run. It’s Texas Tech’s first time in the Elite Eight. And it will have a chance to make more history on Sunday against the best remaining team in the tournament.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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