The first half did not go well for the Horned Frogs.
Playing in the gorgeous Dickies Arena — as beautiful a facility as you will find anywhere, by the way — TCU came out flat on both ends of the floor. A flurry of foul calls didn’t help things, as the Frogs were in foul trouble seemingly before they had even gotten into the game. The Trojans scored first and they would score often in the first half, as they seemingly got whatever they wanted around the basket — thanks to some poor perimeter defense by TCU that helped USC to score 46 points in the paint and shoot nearly 60% in the first half (and 52.6% for the game).
The Frogs fell behind by double digits in the first half, as everyone outside of Kevin Samuel struggled on the offensive end. TCU was just 16-35 from the field and 2-10 from three in the first 20 minutes, as only five Frogs managed to find a basket — led by Samuel’s 12 and Jaire Grayer’s nine. Bane, who was in foul trouble early, had seven points but just one rebound through the first frame.
Meanwhile, the Trojans absolutely lit it up, with eight players making the scorebook, including six with at least five points. That propelled them to a comfortable first half advantage, as they took a 47-34 lead into the locker room at the break.
But as Desmond Bane said in the postgame press conference, this team doesn’t quit. “We’re not going to stop, we’re going to keep playing. That’s just our DNA.”
TCU certainly didn’t stop when they fell down double digits, in fact, they fought and clawed their way back into the ball game with some gritty play — mainly from the young guys. When Desmond Bane picked up his fourth foul just moments into the second stanza, it looked like it might be all but over for TCU. But behind Edric Dennis, Francisco Farabello, and RJ Nembhard, the offense found its way. Farabello hit a pair of big threes to cut the lead to single digits, while Dennis and Nembhard attacked the rim with ferocity as the Trojan lead shrunk to a manageable deficit with time ticking down. In front of Kenny Hustle — Kenrich Williams, in town to play the Mavericks this weekend made his way to Dickies Arena — the Frogs started throwing their bodies around, getting deflections and diving for loose balls, making the types of plays that let teams back into ball games.
The Trojans seemed to put it out of reach with about a minute remaining, taking a six point lead on a big time dunk when a double teamed allowed the lane to clear out. But the Frogs got a bucket from Dennis after Grayer got a loose ball, cutting the lead to four with 47 seconds remaining. The Frogs fouled quickly, and in a one and one situation, the Trojans missed the front end of the free throws, allowing TCU another possession. RJ Nembhard was blocked driving to the rim, but SC missed another freebie — which unfortunately led to another blocked basket attempt for the Frogs. This time, though, TCU retained possession, and Dennis earned a pair of free throws, sinking them both to make it a two point ball game.
Now in the double bonus, the Trojans missed both free throws after another foul, and Kevin Samuel made them pay, earning an and-one opportunity on a layup with eight seconds to play. A Jamie Dixon timeout preceded Samuel’s miss, and the Trojans had one last shot to win it.
They found a way.
Ethan Anderson missed a layup, but Nick Rakocevic (who had 12 points and 11 rebounds in a solid all-around effort) was right there to follow it up, sealing the game with just .2 seconds to play.
TCU had their chances, for sure. And if they had executed defensively just a little bit better or made just a couple more of their attempts in the paint...
... they probably would have come away with the win.
These are the struggles of young teams, though. There’s plenty of poor execution and being a step behind, but they play hard and they don’t give up, no matter what the scoreboard said. Freshmen Diante Smith, Farabello, and PJ Fuller all made big time plays, combing for 14 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds on the night, while turning it over just once. There’s certainly a lot of talent on this team, but a lot of growing up to do, too.
Next up for the Frogs is Wednesday night matchup with Winthrop at Schollmaier Arena.