Jamie Dixon’s men played — which was a welcome change — and performed well this week while on reprieve from the murderous top half of Big 12 competition. Last Wednesday, TCU hosted the 23rd-ranked Cowboys from Stillwater and continued a positive offensive trend from their overtime loss against Missouri the previous weekend. Four of the Frogs’ five starters logged between 14 and 20 points boosted by 14 combined bench points to deliver an exciting 81-78 victory and sweep the Pokes for the regular season. The only exception of elevated play was the notably rattled PJ Fuller (#4), who played 27 minutes with zero points on six attempts from the field while gathering one rebound, one steal, and two assists while still managing to foul out. Fuller’s stat line is basically how I approach every rec league game I play in: be irrelevant to the point total but foul out as quickly as possible.
Okie State shot the better long ball, traveled to the bonus stripe more often, and their field goal percentage was effectively equal. Dixon and company earned their win by gobbling rebounds and shooting from the field more often.
This game was deadlocked at 78 in the closing seconds when bench forward Jaedon LeDee (#23) — who has emerged as a reliable contributor lately — tempted the officiating gods on the final drive to beat a charge by microseconds to sink a contested layup before sinking his bonus shot. The win is only the second occasion our men have vanquished a ranked team this season. Both have been at the expense of Oklahoma State.
TCU didn’t play over the weekend, which was probably preferable to facing second-ranked and undefeated Baylor, who was sidelined due to COVID protocols. Dixon’s dribblers returned to Schollmaier Arena to square up with Iowa State on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t a fluid affair. There were typical point droughts, and Nembhard and cast spent the majority of the evening giving chase to a two-win Cyclone squad that had been sidelined by quarantine so often they’d played only 13 games to that point. Each half finished as de facto mirror images of each other with the Frogs taking an early lead only to succumb to prominent field shooting by a surprisingly competent group of ISU guards before scrambling back. The first frame finished with a nine-point TCU run, thanks primarily to two three-pointers from Frog small forward Terren Frank (#15), who, despite appearing in only five games previously, scored eight essential points off the bench. The aforementioned nine-point run was enough to negate TCU’s deficit and deadlock the squads at halftime.
The second period became a war of attrition for the Cyclones as Frog guard RJ Nembhard (#22) continuously darted to the paint doting on his oversized classmate Kevin Samuel (#21). Team stats remained similar in most categories with the exception of rebounds and foul shooting. Dixon’s squad owned the loose ball by snatching 17 more total rebounds and almost double the offensive rebounds of their opponent. Foul shooting wasn’t spectacular for our boys, whose percentage was inferior to ISU’s but traveled to the line seven more times.
These factors elevated the short-handed purple and white to victory despite freshman phenom Mike Miles (#1) missing the game because of non-COVID illness. Even in victory, the final throw in from Nembhard with his Frogs leading by three proved heartstopping when the full-court press forced an ill-advised pass that was intercepted and shot by ISU to leave the game in doubt until the final buzzer.
The commentators on Tuesday night asserted something that offended my ear, “This season is basically lost for Jamie Dixon.” Which referenced the numerous shutdowns experienced by the program and the up and down nature of the season. But the commentary obviously lacked the long-term vision and history of Funkytown basketball. I’m frustrated, albeit to a lesser degree than many, that TCU isn’t yet in the national conversation for basketball dominance. But calling a season in which the Frogs have won four Big 12 tips versus five losses isn’t a lost season by Frogball standards. Before Dixon arrived, TCU had won eight conference games in four combined years, a dark stretch containing a season when the purple and white lost every conference tip and finished the season with 19 consecutive losses. I don’t know what administration and alumni can do to hasten what has and is a positive trajectory for Frog basketball. Dixon is and was the most important hire for TCU athletics at large in the last five years, and unless the athletic department is willing to offer almost double Dixon’s almost $3 million salary, it’s unlikely there’s anyone better equipped who is willing to do the job.