Fort Worth, TX - It was a slow start for the TCU Horned Frogs Wednesday night in the team’s season opener, as Jamie Dixon’s 20th ranked team struggled to get anything going on the offensive end. Meanwhile, the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners lit up the scoreboard, shooting well over 70% from the floor for most of the first half. Unsurprisingly, the Frogs were out of sync early, as the only active returners were point guard Alex Robinson, shooting guard Desmond Bane, and forward JD Miller - both Kouat Noi and Jaylen Fisher sat out the opener with knee issues. Fortunately for TCU, the two seniors, Robinson and Miller, played strong games, and several newcomers made strong first impressions once they got into the flow of the game.
Trailing 37-28 at the half, the Frogs struggled to get into a rhythm to start the second period, falling behind by as much as 11 through the opening moments of the final 20 minutes. But, they managed to hang around enough to stay within striking distance and wait for their best players to get going - something that Robinson, Bane, and Miller did down the stretch. The Frogs got to within four at the 12 minute mark on a Desmond Bane layup, a made shot that got the guard on a serious heater - after scoring just a single point through the first 20 minutes, Bane ended the night as TCU’s leading scorer, finishing with 14 points on 5-12 shooting (though 0-3 from three) with ten rebounds and an assist. For the junior, whom Jamie Dixon referred to as “a senior in experience and maturity”, it was all about being patient and helping the team however he could until the shots started falling. “My teammates trusted me, A Rob kept telling me ‘it will come, it will come’.” And it did indeed, as he scored nine points over a seven minute stretch to help TCU take, and keep, the lead. His point guard, Alex Robinson, agrees. “This [Bane] is my guy, this is my kick-out guy. I expect big numbers out of him. I kept thinking ‘I have to find him, I have to get him the ball’.” Even more impressive than the scoring, though, was his rebounding - something he said he has made a focus this season with the graduation of Valdimir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams.
Robinson, for his part, was effective as well in a multitude of ways. One of the only players to aggressively look to score in the first half, A Rob finished the night with 12 points and nine assists, and most impressive of all, just one turnover against Bakersfield attacking, aggressive D. He was praised by Coach Dixon after the game, who credited his two seniors - Robinson and Miller - with setting the tone on the defensive end of the floor. “The two seniors really stand out to me. They were good defensively, put up good numbers. Defensively, they were the best guys we had out there, and that’s something we can build on.” Miller was very active on the evening, dropping 13 points of his own and collecting six boards. He was aggressive in attacking the paint and played solid defense at multiple positions.
But it wasn’t just the vets that showed up - RJ Nembhard showed off his quickness in the first start of his collegiate career, scoring eight points on a variety of drives to the hoop, and both Yuat Alok and Kevin Samuel showed serious promise in the paint on both ends of the floor - though they have work to do defensively and on the boards. Alok dropped 11 points in his debut, adding six rebounds but turning it over four times as well. True freshmen Kaden Archie and Kendric Davis didn’t get much run, but knocked down four critical free throws down the stretch to seal the Frogs’ win. There is plenty of growth needed - but plenty to build on, too, for the younger players.
Dixon said TCU won the game with defense, locking down the Roadrunners in the second stanza to the tune of 24% shooting overall and 30.8% from three. That’s the area where the Frogs will have to be better down the line - well, defense and free throw shooting (they were just 11-17 on the night, and even worse if you take out Kendric Davis’ 4-4 effort) - and it’s likely they will be. When you roll out a lineup that has just three players with college experience, a slow start - on both ends of the floor - is to be expected. While it wasn’t impressive, it was a win - against a well-coached, veteran team, that plays physical and tough - and that’s enough for Coach Dixon. “The rankings guys will probably watch this game and think ‘they aren’t very good’. And, maybe we weren’t tonight. But, we are going to be very good.”
He, and his team, will have a chance to take the next step forward in proving that when they welcome Oral Roberts to the Schollie Sunday for a 4:00pm tip.