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Spin Cycle: RJ Nembhard’s miracle shot propels TCU to 81-79 win over Iowa State

The Frogs needed overtime to beat the Cyclones, but RJ’s career-high 31 pushed them over the edge.

This deep three pointer by RJ Nembhard tied things up in regulation and propelled the Frogs to an overtime win.
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU Basketball needed big game Bane on Saturday afternoon. Coming off their, and their star’s, best performance of the young season, the Horned Frogs were counting on the shooting guard to put up another big game as they welcomed Iowa State to Schollmaier Arena for the start of Big 12 play.

In front of a bevy of NBA scouts, Bane and his Cyclone counterpart, Tyrese Haliburton, put on a show, answering the call time and time again for their respective teams.

That is, until the officials decided to turn out the lights on Bane.

Picking up his fourth foul on a controversial call underneath the ISU basket with 15 minutes to play, Bane was relegated to the bench for most of the second half. That meant someone else had to step up and go toe-to-toe with Tyrese, and as he has been on more than one occasion this year, RJ Nembhard answered the bell.

It was a back and forth affair from the opening tip, as neither team had a lead larger five or went on more than a five point run. The two teams changed leads seven times and were tied eight, with TCU outscoring the Cyclones by one in the first half and Iowa State repaying the favor in the second. It was exactly the kind of game you expect in Big 12 basketball play, and the players and coaches said as much after. “Every game is like this. Everybody is going to compete,” Samuel remarked. Dixon added “We got a good win. It’s good to be 1-0 in Big 12 play.”

Nembhard was at his best at the close of both regulation periods, draining a three with :29 seconds to play in the first half and banking in the miracle with one tick remaining in the second. But he didn’t do it on his own, especially early; of his 31 points, only eight came in the first 20 minutes. It was Kevin Samuel and Desmond Bane who came out of the gate with the hot hand, and Nembhard who shut down the club with a second-half scoring run to put Iowa State away late.

Samuel was his usual dominant self, scoring 12 first half points on his way to a 16/9 day. He added six blocks, including two critical ones in the last three minutes — the latter of which erased a potential game winner as time expired in regulation. Bane built off of his 30 point night Monday, scoring all 16 of his points in the first half before foul trouble limited him to just 12 minutes and three field goal attempts in the second. He attempted just five shots in the five minute overtime period, as the Frogs fed the hot hand down the stretch, with RJ scoring four of TCU’s final seven. Bane did add eight rebounds, one fewer than Samuel’s game-high nine on the day.

And while you would think shooting nearly 52% from both the field and the three point line would be enough to put away Iowa State, Tyrese Haliburton was there to remind you that he is pretty good, and more than capable of carrying a team. After the game, TCU’s Jamie Dixon put it well in saying “I hate to state the obvious, but he’s as good as there is in our league.” He proved it in his return from a wrist injury that didn’t seem to bother him one bit, putting up a triple double with a 22/12/10 day. Every time TCU looked primed to make a run, there was Haliburton to answer, and for a moment, it looked as if his long three as the buzzer sounded at the end of overtime might be true.

Thankfully, for Frog fans, it bounced short off of the rim.

Though the Frogs didn’t defend the way they expect — Dixon said “I’m surprised how the game played out and that we really won with offense. I thought our defense and rebounding would be the determining factor” — and in fact, they lost the rebounding, turnover, and points in the paint battles. But, they shot it well, something that the head coach has been expecting to see more of this season. “We’ve said all along that we’ve felt we were a better shooting team than what we’ve shot and you’ve seen our numbers increase and improve and our percentages go up. We believe that. We’re working on it hard. We think our offense has gotten better the last two games and the numbers indicate that.” It certainly made for an exciting game and a thrilling finish.

TCU next travels to Manhattan for a Tuesday contest at Kansas State, who dropped a close one to Oklahoma Saturday. Then Oklahoma State comes to town Saturday — a team that hung with Texas Tech for a half before getting blown out late. The Frogs could benefit from picking up a road win and defending their home floor if they want to make the right kind of noise early.