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TCU 74, Northwestern State 68: RJ Nembhard’s big night saves Frogs

The junior popped off while Kevin Samuel contributed a double-double.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Fort Worth, TX - Things were much closer than they should have been when it was all said and done on Thursday night. TCU came away with a 74-68 win and improved to a 4-0 record with the win over the Northwestern State Demons, but it could have, and should have, been a much larger victory.

TCU was favored by 19 points heading into the contest, but turnovers, some poor defense, and scrappy play from the Demons kept things way too close for comfort for the majority of the game.

RJ Nembhard led TCU with 23 points on 9-17 shooting on the night, and looked more comfortable and in control than he ever has for the Frogs. Before the season we talked about the need for someone to fill the bulk of the void left by Desmond Bane, and Nembhard has been that guy early on.

Nembhard has 37 points over the past two games, but the big note is his efficiency. He shot just 23.8% from the floor in his first two games but upped that to 52.9% on Thursday night. He also added eight rebounds, something Dixon has been calling for guys to do better.

“I want to bring a lot to the table and with my size I think I can bring everything. Whether it’s scoring, defending, playmaking, rebounding,” Nembhard said afterward. “So I do my best, watch a lot of film, see where I can get better night in and night out and put that into action.”

Teammates have almost unanimously named Nembhard as the team’s leader on and off the court, and we caught a glimpse of that leadership after the game.

Of course, stalwart post-presence Kevin Samuel contributed a double-double of his own, scoring 12 points and pulling down 15 rebounds in the victory. It’s Samuel’s second double-double early in the season, and the 17th of his career.

TCU’s three point shooting was lackluster again on Thursday night, making just seven of their 26 attempts (26.9%). PJ Fuller was the only Frog to make multiple threes as he hit three of four. Dixon called out TCU’s three point shooting after the game.

“Every guy thinks they can shoot threes,” Dixon said, “Our numbers haven’t show that in games.”

The Frogs made a concerted effort to play through Kevin Samuel more, running a significant number of pick and rolls, but Dixon knows they still need to involve him more.

“His best scoring has come from pick and roll offense. It’s what he does best, that’s a fact. That’s been proven over time,” Dixon noted. “We’re not going to get away from that to throw it to him with his back to the basket, but we’ve gotta be able to throw it in there at the right times when he has space and when he’s deep. That’s something we’ve got to recognize and get better at.”

TCU should have made quick work of the Demons, but the struggle might be a good wake up call for a young team still figuring things out. TCU moves to 4-0 and now gets set for their first Big 12 game of the season when Oklahoma comes to town on Sunday afternoon.

On what his message is to the rest of the team heading into Big 12 play, Nembhard said this:

“Extreme focus. I think tonight we weren’t extremely focused, but Sunday we can't have that.” He said, “Whether we’re up ten or down ten we’ve got to be level headed, keep our emotions in check and lock in. These Big 12 games are pivotal. We might not get all the Big 12 games in due to COVID so we’ve got to treat these games like it’s the championship.”