“Welcome to Big XII Basketball”. That was Jamie Dixon’s message to open his post game press conference after the Frogs’ 81-78 win over Baylor in Waco, one that did not disappoint in entertainment value but left a few things to be desired after TCU nearly let a double digit lead go for naught for a second straight game. But tonight, they were able to overcome a lost lead and a deficit, and turn it into an all-important road win.
TCU had to learn how to close games. That was the charge coming out of Saturday’s disappointing home loss to Oklahoma, and they took a solid step forward to doing just that on the road Tuesday, winning for the first time in Waco since 2002 and defeating the Bears for the first time since 2005. After the Frogs stretched their advantage to as many as 12 points in the first half, the Bears took their first lead since the early goings with about 12 minutes to play in half number two. They would lead by as much as four as the minutes ticked down, as the zone that TCU had dominated in the first half gave them all kinds of trouble in the second. The Frogs finally found a way to play through Vladimir Brodziansky, and the inside out game of him and JD Miller allowed TCU to tie things up and take a two point lead with less than a minute to play off of a Miller tip in. The Bears came right back to tie it themselves, but after Desmond Bane’s good look at a three glanced off the rim, we were set for another five minutes of fun.
Overtime was a back and forth affair, with both teams making shots and keeping plays alive. No team led by more than two until the final seconds, as Baylor and TCU traded buckets - mostly Jo Lual-Acuil and Jaylen Fisher - until a pair of Fish free throws and a Kouat Noi breakaway dunk off a sideline out of bounds play sealed the deal.
Through the first twenty minutes of play, TCU looked like the far superior team, but Baylor kept hanging around thanks to some impressive work on the offensive glass - they had three offensive rebounds in the first twenty minutes but finished with a ridiculous 19 - and the unguardable JLA. The 7’er, returning from injury, had 28 points and 11 rebounds on the night, dominating inside thanks to his length and exceptional footwork. But the Frogs have a pretty good big of their own, one whom Kenrich Williams called “the best big in the Big 12”, and once they started playing through him, the offense turned around. Vlad finished the night with 18 points, five rebounds, and two assists, and he hit two massive threes at critical junctures to keep his team in the game - including one from the top of the key with 1:29 remaining in OT to give TCU a one point lead. Jaylen Fisher was big as well, bouncing back from a rough outing against OU to drop 15 points on 5-7 shooting to go along with four assists. He also hit both of his three point attempts and went 3-4 from the line. JD Miller and Kenrich Williams had impacts on the front line, dropping 13 and 12 respectively and combing for 15 boards. Miller’s proficiency out of the short corner and forming a 1-2 punch with Vlad was crucial in getting Scott Drew to get out of the zone in the final few minutes as well.
Hustle didn’t hide what this game meant to him after, grinning ear to ear when asked and saying:
“I can't even explain the feeling. I'm just thanking the guys in the locker room. I haven't beat Baylor. Every time I come back home the previous three years, we’ve been beat by like 20. For us to get this win and for them to play like they did, I really do appreciate them, what they did for me. It was just a blessing. I was so excited. I got family, friends, like 25 people here, and we got the win. I'm just excited. feel like I won a championship or something. It's just a game back home. It was big for me.”
The unsung hero of the night may very well be Desmond Bane - though Jamie Dixon was quick to call the defense on star guard Manu Lecomte - it was clear that Bane had a big effect on him on the offensive end of the floor.
“Yeah, it’s coming of a lot of screens, and I thought we guarded the ball screen pretty well, so he didn’t get in the lane a lot,” Dixon said. “He did, and again, it’s a lot of guys, but he’s ... the ones that really concerned us were those baseline screens, they hurt us last year on it. We prepared a lot for it. ... It’s not just one guy coming off guarding, coming off those screens. You need a lot of things and something that we work on and talk about.”
A playmaker when he can penetrate, Lecomte found little room to get around Bane or to get around ball screens, and was held to eight points on 1-11 shooting, four assists, and three turnovers. Bane had ten points himself and an impressive six dimes, as well as a monster breakaway dunk in the first half to fire up the TCU fans in attendance.
The Frogs finished shooting under 50% from the field against a good Baylor D, and were just 8-20 from three and 17-25 from the line. But they made their freebies down the stretch and had just 11 turnovers, a number that Coach Dixon was happy about in a tough road environment. The Frogs finished with all five starters in double digits and got nine from Noi off the bench, as well as four from Ahmed Hamdy before he fouled out early in the second half. Meanwhile, Baylor was just 1-12 from three and shot 42.9% from the field, though they did beat TCU on the boards by a total of 45-34 and had 52 points in the paint.
TCU now has to turn around and face Kansas at home Saturday night, with the game set to tip off at 8:15pm. How crucial was evening the record with the Jayhawks coming to town? Just ask Coach Dixon:
“This thing, it could be, and it has been, called what’s been called the strongest conference in the history, top to bottom, the numbers from the preseason, the non-conference, indicate that. Like I said, there are going to be 16 more.”