TCU started slowing Monday night in their first game in six days, opening the game with a monster Kevin Samuel jam before going cold for the next several minutes. In fact, it was just a 2-2 ball game at the under-16, as the Frogs started 1-3 from the field and 0-2 from the free throw line.
But, unlike a week ago, the injection of Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi seemed to ignite the offense Monday, especially from long range. Kendric Davis was a spark plug once again, giving the Frogs their first lead since 2-0 at 16-15, and from there, it was the Fish Show the rest of the half, as the junior point guard connected on three three-pointers around that layup to give TCU some breathing room. Fish led all scorers at the half with nine points, and got a nice assist from Kevin Samuel, who continued his strong play on both ends of the floor, punctuating a 33-13 run in the first half with an alley-oop jam just ahead of the horn.
Unlike the first half, the Frogs came out on fire in the second, especially from behind the arc - and the trey parade was led by Kouat Noi, who had a monster game in just his second action of the season. Noi struggled in his return against Lipscomb, going 1-7 in the Frogs’ loss. But Monday night was a different story, as the sophomore lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 27 points, on 11-15 shooting, draining five from downtown in the process. 22 of his points and four of his threes came in the final 20 minutes of play. But for the Aussie, it wasn’t a matter of being more comfortable in his second game back. “I’m always comfortable shooting the ball, no matter what, but it was a good game today. I give credit to my teammates for finding me when I was open.”
It wasn’t just Noi, though, as five Frogs finished in double digits in the most even point distribution TCU has seen this year. Jaylen Fisher was excellent from behind the arc, draining four of his eight attempts in doing “what I felt like the team needed me to do, be an offensive spark off of the bench” in his first extended minutes of the season. For the junior point guard, it was a “blessing” to be back in action, and while he said his knee wasn’t 100%, in his words, “it’s close, and it will get there.” Fisher was emotional in his return, “it’s a blessing, I promise. A blessing. I want to cry every moment I am out there.” And who can blame him? After two injury-riddled seasons, every game Fish gets to play is an important moment, and TCU fans everywhere hope he gets many more.
Kevin Samuel had another big night as well, dropping 15 points on 7-9 shooting with six dunks. He added seven rebounds, two assists, and two blocks - and most importantly - picked up just one foul in 26 minutes of play, as he dominated the paint defensively as well as on offense. JD Miller and Desmond Bane added 11 each, combining for nine rebounds and six assists as well. Bane was a menace defensively with three steals, and Miller got the offense going from the high post against EMU’s 3-2 zone attack. The Frogs had 31 assists, led by Alex Robinson’s 13 - though he had a quiet night scoring the ball, he was an exceptional facilitator against the zone - and had just ten turnovers, which Jamie Dixon said is “much more where we want to be in that department.” The Frogs’ coach was happy with the step forward his team took as they continue to get pieces back, stating that the work on offense has started in practice. “Our attack against the zone was good, a little bit more movement, got some interior touches which was good for us. We will see how it carries over to our next one. It’s a good step for us... we have been better in practice with ball movement, we are getting there.” Calling his team “a team in progress”, Dixon said that while things have not gone as expected to start the season, with injuries and missing players, “I think it will start to get there. We have to keep working and grinding. We had four good days of practice. We did a lot more 5 on 5 stuff, live stuff, got right back after the loss and went 5 on 5. We need to play and we need to play with each other - at game speed, real speed, full speed.”
It seems the ramp up in intensity in practice was intentional, as Tuesday’s loss to Lipscomb did not sit well with the Frogs, especially Kouat Noi. “It sucks to lose, but ever since that loss, we came back with a different mindset. We have been practicing hard, pushing each other.”
TCU scored 21 points off of turnovers, their best output of the season, and dominated points in the paint (45-32) and bench points (45-7). Though they lost the rebounding battle 32-28, they outshot the Eagles 61% to 45%, and made 11 threes to EMU’s six. They forced 16 turnovers and led for 31 minutes of game time.
While there is still a mountain to climb ahead of them, TCU certainly took positive steps in their fifth game, running their record to 4-1. Though they fell out of the rankings earlier in the day, they played their most complete game all year, and the player’s don’t seem to mind not having a number next to their name. At least for now, according to Jaylen Fisher. “When Big 12 play starts, we are going to wake every body up.”
Next up for TCU is another directional Michigan school, as CMU comes to town on Friday for a 6:30pm tip.