When they are at full strength, TCU Basketball is very good.
We were reminded of that Saturday, as the Horned Frogs jumped out to a big lead early over Big 12 foe Kansas State behind Nembhard’s 10 first half points and Francisco Farabello’s eight. But, as has become a familiar refrain, that big lead didn’t hold; though they never trailed in the first 20 minutes of play, the Frogs saw an 18 point first half advantage shrink to 10 at the break, thanks to a 7-0 Wildcats run in the second part of the first half and a deep three at the buzzer that beat the clock by a fraction of a second.
The Wildcats’ momentum would carry over into the second stanza, as they quickly put together a 6-0 to counter an 0-5 stretch from the Frogs, making it a 39-34 game with just over 15 minutes of game time remaining. The margin would stay tight for most of the second half of play; though TCU would build a double digit advantage four different times, the Wildcats kept finding ways to cut into it, shrinking the lead to as few as two points and staying within striking distance throughout the second half.
Thankfully, the Horned Frogs have guys like Nembhard and Miles, who dropped 11 and five respectively over the final 20 minutes, and a guy like Kevin Easley, who played his biggest role of the season in chipping in 12 points, five rebounds, and two assists — and drained 7-8 free throws down the stretch. His hustle on the glass and ability to make things happen was huge for TCU, as they out-hustled K State when they needed to most. One issue TCU continues to have, though, is their inconsistency to be able to get Kevin Samuel involved in the offense. The big guy corralled 10 boards Saturday but had just four points — on three shot attempts. Meanwhile, Jaedon LeDee had nine points on five attempts — but five of those came from the free throw line. There’s absolutely no reason that Samuel shouldn’t get an interior touch in every half court set, and the Frogs have to prioritize getting him 8-12 looks at the basket nightly.
Despite the offensive struggles at times, the Frogs held on for the win, mostly behind the heroics of RJ Nembhard. Back from a mild groin injury that caused him to miss the matchup with Prairie View A&M, the redshirt junior did a little bit of everything Saturday — whether it was converting whirling dervish drives to the hoop or nailing turnaround jumpers while channeling his inner Mamba. He also came up big on the defensive end of the floor, forcing a turnover late and pulling down a contested rebound that led to free throws that all but iced the game. Afterwards, he said that he and his team are taking this season personally. “They picked us ninth. We took that very personal, we worked very hard this off season and want to show other teams and people nationally that we are better than that.”
Despite going without a field goal over the final 2:39, TCU was able to fend of the Wildcats’ rally — and they did it mostly from the free throw line. The Frogs made their final 13 free throw attempts and 18-22 overall, which gave them a significant advantage over K State, who was just 5-7. TCU outrebounded the Cats 40-32 and got significant production from their bench, who outscored K State’s 19-3. Though they shot the ball poorly from three (just 3-13), they defended the three ball well, something that Jamie Dixon made a point of emphasis once again. “Rebounding and guarding the three. Did pretty good job on that. Why they made up ground in the second half was the three — that’s something they do pretty well, but we guard it pretty well, too.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Horned Frogs, who are 2-0 on the road in conference play for the first time in 23 years. They welcome #3 Kansas (sure to drop a few spots and be very angry after getting embarrassed at home by Texas) on Tuesday night for 9:00 PM tip and follow that with a home date with #2 Baylor Saturday.
Though confident in their abilities and happy to have a winning record in Big 12 play, Nembhard and company know that there is a long way to go. “We were picked ninth, we haven’t done anything yet. We’re 2-1 in conference play, so what?” There’s a long way to go and many tests left, but the Horned Frogs like their chances.