FORT WORTH, TX - Kouat Noi broke out of his slump, and TCU used a second half surge to knock off Creighton 71-58 and advance to the NIT Final Four. The Frogs will travel to New York City and face the winner of Texas-Colorado in the semifinals.
“We showed them the rings from last time, when we started the tournament, and we had those guys say something about what it felt like and what it meant, and I think our guys can continue to draw inspiration from that,” Dixon said after the game.
Noi, who had been in a weeks long shooting slump, broke out in a big way on Tuesday night. The sophomore poured in 25 points on 8-15 shooting, including 6-12 from three point range. He also crashed the boards to the tune of seven rebounds.
Alex Robinson and JD Miller, playing in their final game at Schollmaier Arena, added a combined 27 points and 16 rebounds in the victory. Robinson recorded a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Dixon emphasized rebounding to his guards in practice, wanting 10 rebounds from the trio of Robinson, Kendric Davis, and RJ Nembhard, and he was pleased with 15.
TCU struggled to get the offense going in the first half, while Creighton maintained a lead for the majority of the half. The Frogs took an early 4-2 lead, but that was their last lead of the half, as the Blue Jays knocked down early threes, broke TCU’s defense for baskets around the rim, and rebounded hard.
The only player who seemed to be able to score consistently was Noi, who recorded 13 first-half points to lead all scorers.
Dixon talked about his performance after the game. “He played very well last game, he just didn’t make shots. He rebounded well, he went to the glass. We’ve been happy with how he’s playing. Obviously we’d like for him to make a few more shots, and tonight he did.”
The Frogs were somewhat lucky to only trail 33-30 at the break. TCU shot 36.7% from the floor in the first half to Creighton’s 52.2%, while the Blue Jays outrebounded TCU 19-13.
“I said we were lucky to be down three,” Dixon said, talking about what he told the team at halftime. “We played horribly, but we’re going to play better in the second half, I guarantee it.”
He was right.
TCU came out firing in the second half, opening up a 49-36 lead over the first five minutes. Noi continued his hot shooting from the floor, drilling a couple of threes and bringing the 3,314 fans in Schollmaier to their feet.
The drive was also punctuated by a pair of thunderous dunks, one from Kevin Samuel and one from JD Miller, as TCU went streaking past the Blue Jays on an extended 19-5 run to open the half.
The Frogs maintained a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half, thanks to a combination of stifling defense and persistent offense. Creighton, who seemingly couldn’t miss in the first half, couldn’t buy a basket in the second. The Blue Jays shot a paltry 25.7% from the floor in the second half, and just 19% (4-21) from deep.
Creighton finished the game shooting just 29% from deep - their fourth worst performance from long range all season.
With one minute left in the contest Jamie Dixon subbed in for seniors JD Miller and Alex Robinson. Miller and Robinson, playing in their final game on TCU’s home court, received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Dixon spoke about their legacy after the game.
“You know, that’s a lot of wins. It’s about 70 wins...that’s a lot of wins in three years,” Dixon said. “They’ve battled. You know, disappointment about not getting into the [NCAA Tournament], disappointment as seniors when you’re left with really seven scholarship guys to play with, and still battling through and playing really well.”
Meanwhile Scott Cross, who accepted the head coaching job at Troy on Tuesday, will remain with TCU in his assistant coaching role for the duration of their run through the NIT according to Dixon.
“He said he’s not leaving until he gets a ring.”
TCU is two wins away from getting that for Cross, for themselves, and for TCU.