Santos-Silva battles foul trouble as he looks to make an impact

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Texas Tech forward Marcus Santos-Silva, center, battles Texas forward Greg Brown (4) and guard Andrew Jones (1) for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

LUBBOCK, Texas — Marcus Santos-Silva spent 26 minutes of Texas Tech’s 82-71 loss to West Virginia on the bench. 

The Red Raiders’ starting center fouled out in 14 minutes, furthering an issue that has plagued him all season. 

“Every single game here, I’m always in foul trouble, not being disciplined,” he said after the game. “Once again, I screwed the team over with my foul trouble.” 

Santos-Silva exaggerated when he said he’s been in foul trouble every single game, but he’s certainly correct that it is a recurring problem. He’s fouled out of three games this season and picked up four fouls in another four. 

It’s kept him below 20 minutes in three of Texas Tech’s close Big 12 losses: both games against the Mountaineers and the conference opener against Kansas. 

“We didn’t recruit Marcus to play 20 minutes a game,” Chris Beard said.

“Like coach says, when I’m in foul trouble, it’s a different team out there,” Santos-Silva said. “That’s on me. I’m here to help this team win and I’m not doing my job, always in foul trouble.” 

The Big 12 is littered with bruising big men who play a physical brand of basketball. Santos-Silva saw the most fearsome of them all in WVU’s Derek Culver, who played a major role in his early exit. 

Santos-Silva is listed at 6-foot-7, three inches shorter than the likes of Culver, Kansas’ David McCormack and Texas’ Jericho Sims, players anchoring the middle for three of the conference’s other elite squads. He has to make up for the height disparity by jostling to get in better position, which can often result in a whistle.  

Santos-Silva said Beard and his staff added measures to their game plan against WVU that were designed to keep him out of foul trouble, but they didn’t work.

“We focused on not fouling. We set up a defense to not let me foul and I still did it,” a dejected Santos-Silva said after the West Virginia game.

The stats may not be flashy, but Santos-Silva is an important piece of Texas Tech’s team when on the floor. He is asked to battle with the Big 12’s behemoths, keep opposing guards away from the rim on drives and grab rebounds. 

On offense, Beard sometimes likes to feed him in the post, where he can look for his own shot or dish out to perimeter players. He had a season-high five assists in a win over Kansas State, a number that even lead ball-handler Mac McClung has yet to post in a conference game.

Beard acknowledged Santos-Silva’s versatility, citing his ability to pass, score and screen as to why he’s crucial to the team’s offense. 

“Basically, there’s nothing he can’t do on the offensive end of the floor,” Beard said. “So we like to play through our best players, and Marcus is one of them.”

But to be one of the team’s best players, he has to be on the floor, as he and his coach both said. Beard said he’s trying to coach the foul trouble out of Santos-Silva through individual workouts and film study. The desired result is the big man developing improved discipline.

Playing defense in the Big 12 is not easy. The players move fast and the ball moves faster, forcing defenders into split-second decisions where the wrong choice gets you in trouble. Failure to switch a screen promptly can leave a man running free to the hoop. Jumping at a pump fake can lead to free throws for an opposing player.

Beard said Santos-Silva could cure his foul trouble dilemma by better choosing when to be aggressive. Both the coach and player used the word “discipline” when asked about the fouling. 

“The objective starts with discipline, understanding what play is worth trying to make versus what play is not worth making,” Beard said. 

Before transferring to Texas Tech, Santos-Silva played three years at Virginia Commonwealth, which resides in the Atlantic-10. The A-10 is a quality conference, but it isn’t loaded with the same chiseled, athletic specimens that inhabit the Big 12. 

Last season Santos-Silva had to match up with Dayton’s Obi Toppin, who was taken No. 5 in the 2020 NBA Draft, but this is his first year banging bodies with someone like Culver, McCormack and Sims just about every game. 

Texas Tech saw the same foul trouble issue pop up last year with big man T.J. Holyfield, who, like Santos-Silva, transferred from a smaller conference to play his senior season at Texas Tech. He arrived by way of the Southland’s Stephen F. Austin University, and committed at least three fouls in 15 of 18 Big 12 games in his lone season as a Red Raider. 

“It’s not a matter of the Big 12 just has better players,” Beard said. “That’s not necessarily true. But the Big 12 has consistently… every team has top guys. Every team in the Big 12 has a future NBA player on it.”

Beyond the quality opponents, Beard said he thinks officiating could play a part in Big 12 newbies getting into foul trouble. 

Culver, McCormack and Sims have all played three or four years in the conference; Big 12 officials have worked plenty of their games and are familiar with how they play. Beard thinks that can lead to a veteran of the league getting calls over someone who’s just arrived.   

“I think when you get a guy that’s played in this league three or four years, and all these individual officials have these players, 10 games, 12 games, 16 games,” Beard explained. “Then you’ve got a good player coming in… and it’s literally the first or second time these officials have seen these players. There’s a human being element to this game.” 

Still, Beard knows that the refs can’t take all the blame for Santos-Silva’s issues with the whistle. It will take improvement on the big man’s part. 

The good news: Santos-Silva is a hard-working, team-first player. Those guys tend to respond to coaching well, and Beard is optimistic about Santos-Silva’s performance as the team hurtles towards the NCAA Tournament. 

“The great thing about Marcus is that this is one of my all-time favorite guys to coach. It’s not even close,” Beard said. “I predict he’s gonna play great here as March nears. I think he’ll have one of the best endings to any season we’ve seen in Lubbock. That’s my prediction because I know how hard he’s working at it.”

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