That “Three Strikes” headline isn’t a reference to baseball but the losing streak coach Jamie Dixon’s dribbling disciples have endured while remaining perilously perched on the tournament bubble. Fans are entering complete panic mode and rightly so. Injuries and depth issues may strand the Frogs back on the S.S. NAIA bound for epic disappointment.
West Virginia did not enjoy their trip to Funkytown early this season and suffered their worst Big 12 loss in program history. This time, travel duties fell on the Frogs, and playing in Morgantown is no easy task –– though facing West Virginia in their backyard represented the most attainable win remaining for the Frogs. The Mountaineers climbed their court eager to rush the pace and play fast-break ball. TCU senior guard Alex Robinson excelled in transition but uncharacteristically struggled from the free-throw line, sinking only two of nine attempts. Our heroes punished lazy transition defense from WVU to collect easy buckets but trailed at the half 36-30.
Referees overworked their whistles throughout this contest, and Frog forwards began rotating on the bench as foul troubles set in. TCU center Kevin Samuel picketed the paint and challenged Mountaineer forward Derek Culver. The second half was tighter than Appalachian banjo strings as neither team could pull away. Senior forward JD Miller and junior guard Desmond Bane kept scores flowing for the Froggies. The mountain men survived on superior offensive rebounding for bonus possessions. Bane joined the party in time to sink a long ball with 47 seconds remaining to knot the teams at 68 points. A shot clock violation on WVU, which was really goaltending by Samuel, blessed our boys with what should have been the final shot of regulation. Bane then fumbled the ball back to West Virginia. A shanked outside shot meant bonus basketball for the Frogs in enemy territory.
The first overtime quickly eliminated Samuel, who fouled out. Forwards Kouat Noi and Miller had four fouls each, meaning Culver could pound the paint. Both teams struggled to find offensive momentum and scored nine.
Two overtimes are better than one, until Noi fouled out. Miller, with four fouls, remained as the lone forward for the resilient reptiles. The second overtime showcased more offense with 11 points for both teams. TCU positioned themselves for the final shot, but the inbound to Miller at half court yielded heartbreak as the usually heady senior was standing on the sideline and surrendered the ball. The cliff dwellers took their chance to end this marathon when Culver failed to sink an easy put-back, and the madness continued to a third overtime period.
The Fightin’ Frogs simply ran out of gas, while the home team started to bury outside shots. Dixon’s lean rotation of seven was down to five with Miller and Robinson both in four-foul purgatory. The Mountaineers scored 16 in the final period to double up TCU’s eight points, and this emotional thriller ended with a triple-OT loss, 96-104. The 55-minute game (three hours in spectator life) featured 11 ties and 21 lead changes and neither team led by more than six points during regulation. A hard fought loss always hurts, but the sting is substantially worse when it’s against the worst team in the conference.
Have you ever had a hangover so bad it lasted from Tuesday through Saturday? TCU has. Texas Tech is dominating the conference, having slammed their way into first place and an 11th-place national ranking by beating Kansas State early last week. The Raiders are Top 10 in almost every statistical category and Top 5 in scoring offense and defense. The Funkyballers needed to play out of their minds to keep pace. They didn’t. The stat sheet tells the tale of an evenly matched contest, except for Tech’s shooting percentage: a monstrous 56.9 percent. Dixon and company didn’t generate enough offense to hang. Tech led by as many as 23 during the first half. Shocked Schollmaiergoers shielded the eyes of their impressionable children. There is no quit in a Horned Frog, and second half shooting hopped the home team to within seven points before the Raiders galloped away. Sadly, this never seemed like much of a game. Tech has won eight consecutive games after similarly owning the Longhorns on Tuesday. TT is set to become the first team to win the Big 12 outright that isn’t the Kansas Jayhawks in 14 years. Frogs faltered at home and were swept by Tech on the season with a 66-81 loss.
It was purple on purple on Monday. TCU hosted Kansas State for its last home spat of the season. K-State beat Baylor in Waco over the weekend and is still in position to challenge Texas Tech for the top conference spot. Also, the Wildcats sport one of the best defenses in college basketball, which was easy to identify as first-half scoring evaded the Fort Dribblers. Robinson struggled with Wildcats in his grill, and the Manhattan maniacs feasted on second-chance buckets to climb to an early lead. Miller and Robinson will have to pass the torch soon enough, and this game was all about freshman phenom Miller and guards Kendrick Davis and RJ Nembhard, both of whom propped up their struggling veteran teammates. The Frogs were tired and overmatched against K-State, their outside shooting struggled, and the seven-man rotation left fatigued Frogs turning the ball over far too much to upset the 18th-ranked Cats. Improved second-half shooting and free throws propelled the Frogs to within two possessions, but the home purple never came closer than that. Miller’s recognition as the most reliable Horned Frog by playing in more games than any other in school history was the bright spot for the veterans. The Frogs flopped on senior night 52-64 to lose their third straight.
The good guys have one tip left to make a plea for tournament inclusion, when they travel to Austin to try and sweep the Longhorns for the season. There is almost no chance for Dixon to fill out another dance card without sizzling some burnt-orange beef Saturday morning.