FORT WORTH, TX - TCU Basketball was without Kouat Noi Saturday morning, and the offense without one of its most dangerous players certainly looked stifled.
The Frogs couldn’t get much going after the opening 10 minutes; after starting play shooting 50% from the field, they went just 18-55 the rest of the way on their way to a 35% from the floor afternoon. Kendric Davis, making his first career start, led the Frogs with 14 points, and was one of only two players to connect on half of his attempts (5-10 from the field, 2-2 from three). The other, Kevin Samuel, went 2-4, as the Sooners gave the big man in the middle few opportunities to make an impact on the offensive end. Though four Frogs finished in double-figures, the lack of a second consistent outside shooter allowed Oklahoma to take away the middle of the court and render the TCU offense far less effective. The Frogs had just 14 assists on the day, coupled by 13 turnovers, with the two point guards combining for eight and six respectively. That forced the Frogs to focus on the outside shot - half of their attempts came from behind the arc -but they weren’t falling as they only connected on nine. The loss of Noi was certainly felt most in that regard, something that OU coach Lon Kruger mentioned after the game. “They were short-handed, without one of their best players, best shooters, and they certainly felt that on the offensive end.”
Meanwhile, the Sooners recovered from a slow start to connect on 50% of their opportunities, including a 7-16 effort from behind the arc. Christian James and Kristina Doolittle had big games for Oklahoma, combining for 35 points on 14-21 shooting, while adding ten assists and 11 rebounds. Doolittle especially was difficult for TCU to handle; the 6’7 forward was matched up with Kevin Samuel quite a bit Saturday morning, and his ability to play inside-out and handle the ball made him a terrible mismatch on the defensive end of the floor for the Frogs’ center.
After TCU closed to within two at the half - on five straight by Desmond Bane, who had missed his first five attempts - OU came out on fire early in the second, draining back to back to back triples to stretch the lead back out to nine. The Frogs could never get closer than four from there, and it seemed every time they got a stop, they responded with a turnover or poor shot selection. Poor shot selection was a point of contention in the post game press conference between players and coach; JD Miller was asked by a reporter if TCU shot too many threes on the game, responding with “Nah, that’s what we do.” When challenged with “even if you aren’t making them?” he doubled down with an emphatic “yessir”. But when Jamie Dixon took the mic moments later and was asked that same question, his response was markedly different. “We definitely did, especially when they aren’t going in. You never want more than 40% of your shots to be from there.” The game plan coming in was unlikely to attempt 32 of those shots - as unlikely as it was for 19 of them to come from Miller and RJ Nembhard. It was also not for Robinson and Bane to combine to go 2-11 from deep. Though Nembhard looked the best he has since the conference opener (12 points, two assists), he needs to be more efficient (4-13 from the field, 2-11 from three) - and that means going to the hoop more than settling for the outside look.
No players or coaches were willing to make excuses, despite being down to just seven players in the rotation (one of which, Russell Barlow, was supposed to redshirt and played less than one minute Saturday). Dixon has never seen anything like it, but knows no one is going to feel sorry for him or his team. “We have had four guys have season-ending injuries (Lat Mayen was announced as out for the year shortly after the conclusion of the game). That’s unheard of. But it is what it is. We can sit here and call it an excuse but it’s not. You’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to figure it out. No one is going to feel sorry for you - you have to find a way.”
The Frogs will need to find a way, starting with Monday’s road trip to Stillwater. With just six games remaining in the regular season, and an even split between home and away, there’s not much margin for error. The cut line for the NCAA Tournament for the Big 12 Conference is generally nine wins, meaning TCU needs to win at least one more on the road to have a legitimate shot. It’s something they have shown they can do once this year, but that may not be enough. “We are going to have to go find a win somewhere else, maybe somewhere people didn’t expect,” Dixon said. “That’s what we did at Iowa State... we have to focus on Monday and play better Monday.”
With Noi’s status for the Oklahoma State game unclear, they’ll need to find offense somewhere. And they will have just one day to figure out from where.