Coach Jamie Dixon and his Frogs approach the conference equinox as they finish out the first half of their schedule and prepare to do battle with each team a second time around. Three road games have netted as many losses, while homestands remain flawless. What is the tipping point as TCU builds its resume to go dancing for the second consecutive season?
Wednesday welcomed the Texas Longhorns to Schollmaier Arena without their favorite fanboy Matthew McConaughey. The Frogs ensured the Horns were dazed and confused. From tip to locker room, the Horns and Horned Frogs battled back and forth, trading leads before TCU pulled ahead by two possessions at halftime 35-31. Dixon’s players never chased after that, though the Longhorns supplied several scares by ascending to within a score repeatedly. TCU finished with the same four-point advantage. Both teams scored 30 points in the second half, but the Frogs won 65-61. Alright, alright, alright. Freshman center Kevin Samuel is a saving grace at the low post and scored 11 points. Kuat “Who’s your Boi?” Noi continued his coming-out party with 15 points, but defense won this game. The Frogs shot a worse three-point and field-goal percentage than the Horns. The victory brought the Froggies back to .500 in conference play, a respectable position for relevance in the tight Big 12.
The Frogs started their weekend with a morning tip against the visiting Florida Gators as part of the Big12/SEC challenge. The Gators –– mid-tier residents in the SEC –– provided solid opposition for TCU while taking brief respite from the rigors of conference play. The first half superbly displayed the suffocating defense that Dixon builds his reputation on. Florida didn’t sink a bucket for the first five minutes of play, by which point the Frogs had built an 11-point lead. The Gators struggled in every phase throughout the half, while the good guys flew across the court in transition, picking up easy points and attacking in the paint. The overwhelming feeling as the teams rested during halftime was that the game was in solid control by the Funkytown Five, who led 32-20. Basketball is nasty streaky. Get while the gettin’ is good because it turns around real quick. Florida, apparently unsatisfied with their first half performance, immediately erased the majority of their deficit to jump within three points of their hostile hosts. The Frogs didn’t look like the same team in the second half as they struggled from the field and added only 23 points to win what would become a defensive struggle, 55-50. It is disconcerting that Dixon’s disciples seem to play their best ball in the first half of games and need an early cushion to account for miscues down the stretch. Junior Desmond Bane accounted for 17 points for the second consecutive game, while Noi just continues to be awesome. He drained three long balls en route to 22 points. It’s frightening to imagine where the team would be without Noi balling out with the season dribbling on.
Trouble at Tech
Ugh. Nothing good happens in Lubbock. The Frogs are struggling mightily on the road, as is most of the Big 12. Frog luck didn’t change while visiting the tumbleweed capital of Texas on Monday. TCU secured one tenuous lead early against the Raiders, who wear red. Tech leads the nation in defense, which seemed obvious as purple nation struggled to find footing in the paint, while their outside shooting froze in the frigid West Texas winds. Defensive rebounding eluded the Frogs, and their opponents wrestled bonus offensive possessions throughout the game. Bane conspicuously failed to score in the first half. Noi tried to life-raft his teammates by leading the scarce scoring before halftime. The purple people came alive after halftime for a change but too late amid the Tech offensive explosion. The Frogs forgot their special sauce as Lubbock rocked the hardwood on the back of cheap liquor and the hopes of a return to the Elite Eight. TCU hope stayed afloat late in the second half as the deficit dwindled to 10 points before everything fell apart. Tech scored 84, their best conference output –– and the most TCU has given up all season. Noi scored the best to lead all Frogs with 17 points. Samuel’s double-double wasn’t enough to offset the onslaught of Tech buckets. The Raiders are dominating despite underachieving this season after three consecutive conference losses and sit in fourth place behind Kansas, Kansas State, and Baylor.
Frog nation is 3-4 in conference play with all victories at home and all failures on the road. TCU visits Baylor on Saturday and needs to score its first visiting victory to keep pace with conference opponents and fly beyond the tournament bubble.