TCU faced a significant, if surprising, challenge from Bucknell Sunday night as they looked to earn a spot in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic and a rematch with Indiana State. The Bison came out energetic and inspired, riding the hot shooting of Nate Sestina to put the Horned Frogs behind for the first time in three games on multiple occasions in the first 20 minutes.
The situation wasn’t helped when Jaylen Fisher, who hit the game’s first shot with a three ball, picked up two fouls within the first two and a half minutes, forcing him to sit until the final ticks of the first half. The depth of the Horned Frogs was tested even further when freshman Kendric Davis took a terrible looking fall with just a few minutes remaining in the opening stanza, landing on his forehead and opening a cut above his eye. But, TCU showed toughness in adversity, fending off a couple of Bucknell rallies to go into the half with a three point lead - mostly on the back of Alex Robinson. The senior point guard completely took over the game down the stretch, dropping three straight dimes to JD Miller that led to dunks and scoring the last points of the first 20 minutes on a nifty drive to the rack.
As has been the case all season long, the Frogs proved themselves to be a second half team, as Jamie Dixon must have had something to say to his team in the locker room that led to TCU exploding out of the break. The Frogs opened a 14 point lead with a 13-1 run in the first four minutes, punctuated by threes from Fisher and Desmond Bane and four points from Samuel. The big guy had a big game, blocking shots, dominating the glass, and scoring at will. Samuel finished the game with 14 points, nine rebounds, and a pair of blocks as Bucknell never found an answer for the seven footer. But as good as Kevin was, this game was all about Alex Robinson, who crept closer to the all-time assist record with a second consecutive 11 dime game, tying the tournament record once again and putting himself in prime position to break it in the finale.
As the Frogs threatened to run away with things, the Bison kept creeping back - pulling within single digits on multiple occasions, only to be pushed back time and time again. Nate Jones was huge for Bucknell, drilling four threes in the game despite having hit just one all season prior to Sunday. But Jaylen Fisher loves a challenge, and it seemed like every time Jones hit from deep, Fish matched him, scoring 12 of his 14 points from behind the arc.
TCU finally put the Bison to bed with a 9-0 run over five scoreless Bucknell minutes, as they couldn’t find the bottom of the bucket, even at point blank range. Though they made one last valiant effort, getting back within 12 at one point, the Frogs got timely buckets from Noi and Bane to hold the Bison at bay. Bane’s 16 led all scores, as the junior was one of six Frogs in double digits - joining Fisher and Samuel (14 each), Noi (13), Miller (12), and Robinson’s 11 - giving him a double double once again.
Despite shooting the ball below expectations for the second straight game (45% from the field and 32% from three) and getting a relatively low number of assists (15), TCU controlled the game using tempo, rebounding, and defense. They will be challenged differently by Indiana State than they were the first go-round, as the Sycamores have gotten better production from a pair of transfers that made their season debut a week ago. They will be ready on Christmas Day, looking to bring home some holiday hardware.