For a while, it looked the the Horned Frogs were primed to pull off the upset in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament, running out to a big lead early in the first half of their semi-final game against the top-seeded Kansas State Wildcats.
But less than 24 hours after holding off a feisty Oklahoma State team with upset on their minds as well, TCU Basketball simply ran out of gas against the Cats in the second half, even without the star power of Dean Wade on the floor, leading to a 70-61 defeat at the hands of the tourney’s top seed. The Frogs started hot, hitting their first three field goal attempts - all from behind the arc - to jump out to a 9-2 lead. They would not connect from deep the rest of the half, finishing 3-8, and made just two more three pointers over the rest of the game on their way to finishing 5-17 from behind the arc. The shooting struggles were enblamatic of the team’s struggles over the final 25 or so minutes of play - they looked tired, and they probably were.
TCU stretched the lead to as many as 14 in the first half and trailed by as many as ten in the second, as Kansas State hung around enough despite the Frogs’ strong play early to position themselves to take over late. It clearly took the league’s best team some time to adjust to life without their best player, as the Cats were out of sync on both ends of the floor sans Dean Wade. But with about five minutes to play in the half, they found something, chipping away at the lead on their way to ending TCU’s tourney run. Kansas State took their first lead early in the second, tying things up at 39 with a free throw with 15 minutes to play, and taking the lead on a three pointer on the missed second freebie seconds later. The Frogs never got closer than three again.
The first half saw quiet starts from leading scorers Kouat Noi and Desmond Bane; Bane had three points on 1-3 shooting while Noi made four free throws but went 0-2 from the field. Bane bounced back in half number two, scoring 13 points - the second straight game he put up double figures in the final 20 minutes - but it wasn’t enough. 11 turnovers from Noi and Alex Robinson (the Frogs had 18 total compared to the Cats’ 9) and a second half shooting under 30% from three and 44% from the field did TCU in and ended their run in Kansas City.
The Frogs finished with three players in double figures, led by Bane’s 16. Robinson added 12 points, Kevin Samuel 11, and Noi and Miller had eight each. RJ Nembahrd and Kendric Davis combined for six points on 2-7 shooting. Noi, Miller, and Robinson adder seven rebounds each.
In Wade’s absence, four Cats scored in double digits, led by Xavier Sneed’s 19. K State played an eight man rotation but got 13 players in the game.
The Frogs will now wait to hear their fate on selection Sunday, with a 40% chance of making the field - according to ESPN. The Cats advance to play Iowa State in the quarterfinals tomorrow evening. TCU, with 20 wins, has a solid case to make the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, but will be watching the conference tournaments closely, aware of lurking bid thieves. Their fate is no longer in their hands.
No matter what happens, it’s hard to question the heart of the seven players who fought down the stretch of the season, clearly giving their all with everything on the line. We can all hope they get the chance to play on.