Mike Miles wasn’t a top 100 player coming out of Lancaster, TX. The true freshman point guard has been “the surprise of the Big 12” according to Saturday’s announcers, as he dazzled the broadcasters and the fans across 41 minutes of scintillating play against #12 Missouri in Columbia.
But TCU fans have known since the beginning of the season that they had something special; though Miles had games where he certainly looked like a freshman, the skills were obvious from day one, and he has progressed impressively throughout the season. The 1-2 punch of Miles and junior RJ Nembhard has been special — even when the results haven’t been great — but the missing ingredient for the winning formula has been a third scoring option, something that the Frogs found Saturday on the road against a Top 15 opponent — for 36 minutes, at least.
Early on, it looked like Jeremiah Tilmon was going to get whatever he wanted against TCU, forcing Jamie Dixon to throw Kevin Samuel, Jaedon LeDee, and even Eddie Bartlett against the Tigers’ talented big. Tilmon had 17 points in the first half of 8-9 shooting in just 13 minutes, but the Frogs were able to slow him down a bit early in the second half. After the game, Jamie Dixon remarked that they “felt like we were getting away with him getting layups and taking away the three”, but it would be the three ball late that would do TCU in.
Well, that and rebounding.
TCU stayed close early and actually took a five point lead into the break, on the strength of Mike Miles’ ten first half points, Chuck O’Bannon’s nine, and PJ Fullers’ seven. The offensive efficiency of the latter two opened things up for Miles, who was effective in the lane and from mid-range, making five of his first five shots. He would be even better in the second half, and would get more help: the Frogs built a lead as big as 12 points, the margin they held with 4:40 to go in regulation. They took their lead from four to 12 in less than three minutes, making seven consecutive baskets, highlighted by Miles and RJ Nembhard taking turns feeding each other on the fast break.
But from there, it was all Tigers, as they out-scored TCU 19-7 over the final 4:40 and out-rebounded them by ten. “You’ve got to come up with the plays,” Dixon said. “This is two games in a row where we've had the lead and the rebounding went the opposite way.” The Frogs held a three point lead with just 23 seconds to play... and then the rebounding went the other way. Dru Smith missed a three point attempt, but Tilmon controlled the miss, sending it hard off the iron on a putback attempt, and setting the Tigers up for one last shot on the long rebound. Kobe Brown found Xavier Pinson from deep, and his aim was true. Those three of his career-high 36 sent the game to overtime, and the Frogs would never truly threaten in the final five minutes. “How do we get this right?” Dixon pondered post game. “We have had some challenges, but we have made progress. We have fought, we have competed, we have better understanding, we are playing better together. But we didnt get it done.”
Asked what happened down the stretch, Mike Miles acknowledged that his team has to do a better job of recognizing the hot hand. “I feel like the ball got stagnant, with people taking bad shots. We’ve got to recognize the open person, need to who made the last shot and give them a chance to make the next.” Miles, of course, was awesome Saturday. After scoring 17 against Kansas just three days prior, he dropped a career-high 28 against Missouri — draining 12 of his 20 attempts from the field, two of his four three point attempts, and hitting a pair of clutch free throws with just seconds remaining that ensured TCU would have a chance in OT. He added five rebounds and five assists, and did it all with zero turnovers. This was the best offensive performance from the Frogs’ bench as well, as they 25 points, while Missouri got just five from their reserves. Jaedon LeDee (11/7), PJ Fuller (10 points), and even Eddie Lampkin (first career points and two rebounds), contributed critical minutes. But despite shooting 55% from the field and hitting 13-17 free throws, the Frogs couldn’t get it done.
“We couldn’t stop them in overtime,” Dixon bemoaned. “We talk about offense, but they had 102 points. We’ve got to guard, we’ve got to come up with loose balls. We talked about free throws, that had to get more than them — they got double what we got.” Missouri made 21 of their 35 attempts from the charity stripe, and TCU had two players foul out — the first time any Frog had fouled out this season. Fans will bemoan a non-call on an RJ Nembhard drive late, but Dixon was clear in saying “we aren’t going to rely on officials.”
Mike Miles and his team won’t be feeling sorry for themselves, though, not with another top team coming to town next week. “I feel we are really close,” he said. “We can be just as good as any team in the country — we’ve showed it. We’ve been up at the half against some of the best teams in the country, just haven't been able to finish it out. We are going to learn, we’re going to get better.”
They’ll have a chance to get over the hump Wednesday, when Oklahoma State, who finds themselves just outside of the top 25, comes to town for an 8:00 PM tip.