Nobody aspires to be in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The consolation tournament serves leftovers for teams that missed out on the main course. In TCU’s case, the basketball team was included among the nefarious first four out and considered the very best of the rest. The downtrodden group of four teams all received first seeds in the field of 32 also-rans. Of those first four out, only two are still ballin’ –– TCU and Indiana (who edged Arkansas by three in their second-round match-up). The 1-seed Alabama lost its first game, then promptly fired its head coach (former Dallas Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson), and UNC-Greensboro fell to Lipscomb, with whom the Frogs split games before conference play started.
Sam Houston State
First-round jitters plagued coach Jamie Dixon’s depleted squad while hosting the Sam Houston State Bearkats in the opening round. TCU sprinted to shoot only to find unfriendly home iron. The Bearkats climbed on top early thanks to precision jump shots and early three-pointers. Eight points separated the Frogs from their in-state competitors midway through the half. Frog hoopers JD Miller and Desmond Bane took it upon themselves to lift their fellow Frogs out of offensive mediocrity. Miller pounded the lane, collecting layups while Bane buried outside shots to turn an eight-point deficit into a four-point advantage by halftime. Dixon’s disciples didn’t falter after returning from the locker room. The Froggie freshmen friendom of Kendric Davis, RJ Nembhard, and Kevin Samuel pounced to protect the victory. Davis’ electrifying speed penetrated the Bearkats’ defense, and Samuel’s imposing size is proving to be too much for NIT-level competition. Nembhard –– despite his head-scratching moments this season –– has athleticism to spare and should develop into a versatile match-up problem as he matures. Seniors Alex Robinson and Miller avenged their poor performances the last time they played in Schollmaier with 15 and 13 points respectively, and Bane added 13. Nembhard scored 12, Samuel 11, and Davis 10. Junior Kouat Noi was the lone Frog to fall short of double-digits. Frogs win 82-69.
“When it rains it pours” isn’t an insensitive reference to the flooding in western Nebraska but rather the storm of buckets swishing for the Frogs while they dominated the Cornhuskers in the second-round game Sunday night. Nebraska held brief leads early in the first half and never by more than two points. Frogs center Samuel imposed his will early and is starting to combine the post puzzle into dominating performances. Bane was Mr. Everything against Big Red: Layups, rebounds, long-balls, and 30 points to boot. Miller repeated his performance against SHSU with another 15 points. Robinson added nine points and as many assists. Davis slashed his way through the defense to tack on 12. The only knock against Dixon’s dribblers was their continually losing track of 6-foot-8”-inch Husker forward Tanner Borchardt, who snuck his way into an empty lane for easy buckets throughout the second half. The home hoopers never took their foot off the gas and won 88-72 to send the corn crew packing. This scorefest should be a confidence booster for the Funky Frogs as they prepare for a quarterfinal game with another Nebraska-based squad, the 2-seed Creighton Bluejays.
TCU hosts Creighton on Tuesday night, and the Fort Worth Weekly will have already gone to press when the teams tip off at Schollmaier Arena. The Bluejays are ninth in the country in threes scored per game and average more than 78 points a game. If Creighton rolls early, it could be season ending for Dixon and company, though the purple people eaters are experiencing an offensive resurgence since the tournament started. Size and rebounding are the greatest allies of the Horned home team. Creighton and TCU recently dismissed assistant coaches after they were linked to the FBI’s NCAA basketball corruption probe, so they have that in common. The winner advances to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the semifinals and is likely to play the 2-seed burnt-orange Bevos from the University of Texas on Tue, April 2. Ultimately, the NIT is a positive outcome for TCU since dancing ended for almost all of the lower-seeded teams early in the NCAA tourney. The Frogs have an opportunity to play thrice more and develop their young’uns, who will electrify the Fort for the years to come. It would have been understandable for the team and fans to pack up this injury-laden season and say, ‘Oh, well, football season is only five months away,” which is what Alabama did. But the Horned Frogs fight, even for consolation.