Game Time: 8:00 PM CST | Location: Stan Sheriff Center – Honolulu, HI | TV: ESPN2 | Series: Tied 1-1 | Game Line: TCU -12
The TCU Horned Frogs (10-1) will play for a championship on Christmas night, facing an Indiana State Sycamores (8-3) team that they played only 9 days earlier in Fort Worth. The Frogs used a strong second half against Bucknell to advance to this championship game, prevailing by a score of 82-65. Desmond Bane led the way with 16 points and 7 boards. Jaylen Fisher added another 14, and Kevin Samuel just missed a double double with 14 points and 9 boards. Alex Robinson used a late layup to secure a double double of 11 points and 11 assists, while Kouat Noi (13) and JD Miller (12) also ended up in double figures. The Frogs won the rebounding battle over the Bison and forced them into a 0.5 assist to turnover ratio.
Indiana State topped UNLV by a score of 84-79 in the semifinals. Jordan Barnes had a massive game, dropping 28 points on 15 shots. Tyreke Key had a big night at the free throw line, scoring 10 of his 16 points from the charity stripe, while Emondre Rickman and Bronson Kessinger dropped 13 and 11 respectively. ISU ran out to an early lead, and used their hot shooting to keep pace with the Rebels and eventually pull out the win. They won despite committing 28 fouls, which led to two of their top players fouling out of the game.
Since TCU played Indiana State so recently, the preview from last game, found here, will provide similar insights into ISU’s roster. The Sycamores do have two key contributors not mentioned in that article, as they made their debuts in the first TCU matchup. Christian Williams has replaced Allante Holston in the starting lineup. The Iowa transfer had a nice game in the first matchup, with a double double of 13 points and 11 boards. He’s been a nice piece for them both on the boards and on the defensive end so far this season. Freshman Cooper Neese is known as a solid three point shooter, and despite the announcers’ repeated claims on the 16th, he debuted in college for one game a season ago before medically redshirting. The Sycamores like him as a dynamic future scoring weapon, though as a freshman it is always hard to say what his immediate impact will be. So far, it’s been inconsistent, with 10 points in the Colorado game followed up by a goose egg against UNLV.
For a nice recap of how the first matchup went, check out Melissa’s post game piece here. The only other game Indiana State has played since was their first round win over Colorado, 72-67. They proved their worth as the top three point shooting team in the nation, nailing 9/16 shots, while also winning the rebounding battle by crashing the offensive glass. They still profile as the top team from three, nailing 45.2% of their attempts, while also defending the three ball well. The last matchup ended up being a sloppy game with a lot of turnovers and runouts, something that the Frogs have made a point of emphasis to improve on. Tyreke Key will likely score more than 3 points this game, so the Frogs can’t rest on their laurels after winning last game quite easily. This bout isn’t in Fort Worth, and there’s a trophy on the line.
Three Things to Look For
A key part of the Bucknell win was forcing the Bison out of the paint and settling for jump shots. Even with their skilled guards, Bucknell was simply settling for bad shots. That sort of inside out approach has spurred the TCU defense all season, and when the defense locks down, everything else opens up. Bronson Kessinger had a career high last time against the Frogs, and Christian Williams played well in his debut, so you can bet the Frogs will focus on shutting those two down.
Barnes and Key Again
This was the #1 key last time, and will stay true for any team facing off with ISU. Key had a dreadful game last time, with 3 points on 1/6 shooting, and it’s foolish to expect that level of performance again. Barnes is going to get his, so the focus will be on forcing him to work for it. Make Barnes and Key settle for contested jumpers, and suddenly the game will slip into the Frogs’ favor.
The Sycamores turned it over 20 times in Fort Worth, many of them unforced leading to TCU points. They only had 10 against UNLV, so the Frogs will look to push that number closer to game one levels. On the other end, the Frogs have really had to work on their transition defense, and limiting turnovers is the best way to render that a moot point. Winning the turnover battle will essentially win the game.
It’s always nerve racking when you beat a team, then have to turn around and immediately play them again. There is a level of familiarity established, and now they can more effectively game plan for what they’ve seen. Even taking this and the move to a neutral site into account, I still can’t see Indiana State winning this game. It may be close for a half like it usually is, but the Frogs are playing too well and had too good a game plan for the Sycamores last time out.
Yuat Alok may remain out, which would mean heavy minutes for Kevin Samuel and JD Miller. Given the upcoming D-II matchup with Hawaii Pacific, you can afford to give heavy minutes to some of your starters if this game winds up closer than expected. That being said, I think the Frogs are in control by at least halfway through the second half, and Alex Robinson doesn’t have to play 39 minutes again.
Prediction: TCU 83, Indiana State 69