For a while, it looked like TCU Basketball was going to be in a battle for a second straight game, as USC seemed to have an answer for every run the Horned Frogs made.
Well, almost every run.
Jaylen Fisher picked up right where he left off Wednesday against SMU, hitting five threes in the first 20 minutes against the Trojans to give his team a 20 point half time lead. Fisher, who had a combined nine three pointers in the second half against SMU and the first half against USC, led the scoring for a potent TCU offense that came out of the gate hot and stayed that way.
The Frogs led for all but 35 seconds of the first half, shooting 50% from the field and 44% from deep. Fisher was certainly feeling it, dropping his 15 first half points, but he wasn’t alone - six Frogs scored in double digits on the night, with both Fisher and Alex Robinson finishing with 15. Robinson, who surpassed 1,000 career points Friday, was named game MVP by the Hoop Hall of Fame Classic sponsors, for his scoring and assist output - he had eight against USC after moving into third place all-time at TCU Wednesday. But, he made sure to let every know it wasn’t about him, calling his teammates over as he accepted the award and telling the media after the game that it was a true team win. “I didn’t feel like it was just me out there. We had a ton of guys in double digits, Kevin had 13 rebounds - it was a total team effort, so I didn’t feel like I should be up there celebrating by myself.”
Fisher’s five threes were the story of the first half, but USC couldn’t get out of their own way regardless. Coach Andy Enfield was flabbergasted by his team’s effort. “I didn’t see this coming at all. That’s on me as a coach. I have to do a better job.” Though he credited TCU for their complete effort, he also referenced a few key turning points - led by a bricked dunk on a breakaway that would have cut the TCU lead to four but instead began a 23-10 Frog run to close the half. The Frogs defensive effort was such, that even when the Trojans had an open look - they couldn’t get the ball there. A myriad of deflections by the Horned Frogs flustered a stagnant Trojan O that shot just 32% from the field despite hitting 8-18 three pointers. USC added 20 turnovers - TCU had just 14 - and had just 11 assists compared to the Frogs’ 22. The Frogs dominated the boards too, out-rebound SC 41-33, with at least eight Frogs pulling down three or more a piece.
The game was over within moments of the second half beginning, as USC made just nine shots - a feat duplicated their first half effort - but had nine less opportunities. The Frogs shot 50% in the second stanza despite the bulk of the minutes going to the bench as the lead grew up and over 30 points.
Kevin Samuel had another strong night, finishing with 10 points and 13 boards for yet another double double - his third of the year. JD Miller was effective yet again, filling up the stat sheet with 14 points, five assists, and three rebounds. Six different Frogs made three-pointers as well, a welcome sight after Wednesday’s struggles from deep.
It was absolutely the most complete effort of the season for Jamie Dixon’s squad, as they set their season-high for scoring and missed their best defensive effort of the year by just a bucket. But the TCU coach knows his team has a long way to go to be ready for the meat-grinder of Big 12 play, and has one concern before it starts just a few weeks from now. “I like where we are at, I like what we are better than last year. But, there are plenty of things coming down the road, and I talk to our guys about it - we got to stay with this team, with this unit that we have developed here in a short time and not run into distractions - because they will be coming.”
A healthy TCU team should strike fear into the hearts of the top of the conference, and if they can stay that way, they are poised to be true contenders into March. As the five returners get healthy and used to playing together, they should get even more efficient on both ends of the floor, and as the young, inexperienced players get more opportunities, they should add more value. The 37 minutes that Kendric Davis, Kaden Archie, and RJ Nembhard collected tonight is a good start - as are the ten combined points and rebounds.
The Frogs will head home for finals, not playing another game until Sunday, December 16th, when Indiana State comes to town for a 4:00pm tip. From there, the Horned Frogs head to Honolulu to start a four game set in the Hawaiian Islands as their final non-conference tune-up, starting with the Diamond Head Classic.