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TCU 82, Sam Houston State 69: Frogs survive slow start, run away from Bearkats

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TCU will face Nebraska on Sunday night.

RJ Nembhard celebrates after a made basket late in the first half against SHSU during the first round of the NIT Tournament.
Melissa Triebwasser

FORT WORTH, TX - RJ Nembhard sparked TCU when they needed it most, and six Frogs scored in double figures as they ran away from Sam Houston State 82-69. The Frogs advance to the second round of the NIT.

They’ll host Nebraska, after the Huskers knocked off Butler. The game will tip Sunday night at 8:30pm on ESPN U.

Nembhard scored 12 points and pulled down five rebounds on the night, but a series of plays in the second half stood out for the redshirt freshman. With TCU up 57-44 midway through the second frame, RJ took a rebound coast to coast and threw it down with authority. Just 15 seconds later he came away with a steal and threw it down again to give the Frogs a 61-44 lead.

JD Miller led the balanced scoring attack with 15 points, while Desmond Bane and Alex Robinson both added 13. Kevin Samuel added 11 points, six rebounds, and three blocks.

Robinson managed another milestone during the victory as well, becoming the single-season assist leader for TCU. He finished with a double double, adding 11 assists to his 13 points.

Kai Mitchell led the way for the Bearkats, pouring in 24 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Cameron Delaney added 15 points for Sam Houston as well.

Things looked grim for the Frogs early on. Not only did they fall behind Sam Houston State early, but it looked like Desmond Bane was hurt in the first few minutes of the contest. Going up for a play near the rim, Bane bumped awkwardly into a Bearkat player

The Frogs started off slow, falling behind Sam Houston State with a lackluster effort on both ends of the court. Poor shooting, poor rebounding, and slow rotations on defense allowed the Bearkats to open up a 20-12 advantage close to midway through the half.

Alex Robinson said that might have had something to do with TCU feeling snubbed from the NCAA Tournament.

“We were a little upset when we didnt get into the tournament,” Robinson noted after the game, “You could definitely tell we didn’t come out with the energy we needed to, but we picked it up.”

The Frogs had to try and bounce back from being disappointed in being left out of the NCAA Tournament, but it wasn’t just Horned Frogs who thought they should be in.

“TCU was a team I thought should have been in to the NCAA Tournament,” SHSU head coach Jason Hooten said after the game. “Just big, and long, and athletic.”

That length and athleticism bothered Sam Houston State to the tune of a 50-28 scoring advantage in the paint for the Frogs.

The Frogs fought back using a 7-0 run - capped by Bane’s first three of the half - to pull within one. Sam Houston State responded with a 7-0 run of their own, pulling out to a 27-19 lead and forcing a TCU timeout.

While TCU had looked lackluster to this point, that didn’t stop RJ Nembhard from locking down on defense. Nembhard’s energy seemed to boost the rest of the Frogs, as TCU used the last six minutes of the half to go on a 15-3 run.

Desmond Bane sunk two more big threes during the run, and Kevin Samuel dominated in the post as the Frogs took a 34-30 lead into the break. The Frogs collected themselves at the half as well, and it showed when they came out of the break.

“We talked at halftime and we realized how important this is for us,” Robinson said.

Kendric Davis also chimed in on how the team was feeling.

“We were disappointed at first. After we found out we didn’t make it [into the NCAA Tournament] we dang near didn’t want to play anymore.”

But earlier Wednesday TCU watched the tribute video from their 2017 NIT championship run, and that inspired the current squad.

‘It’s still a championship,” Davis said. “We also get to show the committee that we should have been in the tournament two years in a row. There’s a lot of motivation to just go out there and play our hardest.”

The Frogs extended their lead in the second half, going up by as many as 17 after Nembhard’s incredible plays midway through the half.

Sam Houston State tried hard to claw their way back into the game in the final ten minutes. With under four minutes remaining, the Bearkats scored to cut TCU’s lead to 73-65, as it looked like the Frogs were once again letting a big lead slip away.

A big knock on TCU’s performance has to be their free throw shooting. The Frogs attempted 28 free throws - a sign that they were being incredibly aggressive (and that the altered foul rules were having an impact) - but made just 12 of them.

Had Sam Houston pulled any closer than eight, missed free throws may have become an issue.

Fortunately it was a non-factor. TCU finished the game on a 9-4 run to put Sam Houston State away for good, and now they’re on to the second round.

Check out Jamie Dixon’s postgame comments right here: