“We got tougher as the game moved along.”
TCU coach Jamie Dixon had a clear message for the Horned Frogs after their win on Saturday night.
TCU moved to 2-0 with a 70-65 win over a senior-laden, physical Tulsa squad in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, MO.
“Certainly I liked how we grew during the game,” Dixon continued in the post game press conference. “I saw us get tougher and stronger. We had great leadership from Kevin [Samuel].”
Kevin Samuel tied a career high with 18 rebounds, adding 14 points as well. Samuel led TCU in both categories on the night.
“They’re a physical team, I wanted to match their intensity.” Samuel said afterward.
The junior center did that all night, at some points dragging his teammates along. TCU shot just 36.4% from the floor on the night, while Tulsa shot an even 50% from the floor.
Freshman Mike Miles, moved to a bench role with the return of RJ Nembhard, found himself in foul trouble for most of the night. He still managed to be second on the team in scoring, though, with 12 points, including 2-4 from deep. He scored nine of his points down the stretch as TCU maintained a slim lead for the majority of the second half.
Redshirt freshman Taryn Todd and sophomore Francisco Farabello also had huge second halves for the Frogs. Todd added nine points on the night, including a massive three-pointer with 1:09 left in the contest as the shot clock expired, putting TCU up 65-60.
On the ensuing Tulsa possession Brandon Rachal got into the lane, but Farabello was there waiting to draw the charge.
“I thought Taryn Todd was huge for us in the second half, and I thought Francisco taking that charge was huge.” Jamie Dixon said after the game.
RJ Nembhard struggled from the floor on the night, shooting just 2-11, but his leadership has been praised by teammates and coaches alike, and his return no doubt gave TCU a boost.
“We had another guy we could rely on,” Samuel said of Nembhard when the night was through. While his shot wasn’t always falling, Nembhard played solid defense and helped some of the younger guys rotate against a Tulsa team that tried to assert themselves physically throughout the night.
“We got pushed around early,” Dixon said of Tulsa’s physicality. “We’re not a physical bunch right now.”
That put TCU in a hole to start the game.
TCU started off about as bad as a team can, shooting just 2-12 from the floor as they saw themselves fall behind 20-10. Kevin Samuel seemed to be the only Frog interested early on, and his nine-point, 12-rebound first half kept the Frogs steady until the shots started to fall.
And fall the shots did, as Farabello, Nembhard, Easley, and Miles all drained threes to fuel a 26-10 run for the Frogs over the last 9:54 of the first half.
The Frogs took a 36-30 lead into the half, and only conceded it once in the final 20 minutes.
Rachal, Tulsa’s leading scorer on the night with 18, drilled a three with 4:46 left in the game to tie things at 57. TCU at that point had missed several shots, and watched Tulsa close the gap on what was once a nine-point Horned Frog advantage.
The Frogs were tough down the stretch though, with Miles and Todd both hitting big threes, and closing out with free throws the rest of the way.
TCU faces Liberty in the championship of the Hall of Fame Classic on Sunday at 2:30pm central time.
“Obviously they’re good, having beaten Mississippi State and South Carolina,” Dixon said of the Flames on Saturday.”
We’ll see if TCU can move to 3-0 on Sunday, but for now, TCU is 2-0. It’s all you can ask for from a squad that hasn’t practiced much because of COVID over the past three weeks, and is built mostly of freshmen and sophomores.