On a night where TCU Basketball was without Mike Miles and RJ Nembhard was without his A game, it was fair to ask who would step up for the Horned Frogs on the offensive end of the floor.
The answer was surprising to everyone but the guys that see what happens behind the scenes.
Playing an Iowa State team that hadn’t won since before Christmas, this was one that TCU absolutely had to have. But, faced with winning a Big 12 game without one of their star players, it would likely take a lesser-known player pouring in a big game to get it done.
Enter Terren Frank.
The true freshman is no stranger to big moments, having played alongside Bronny James and Zaire Wade, Scotty Pippen Jr., and Kenyon Martin Jr while at Sierra Canyon High School in California. But he hadn’t seen much in the way of collegiate minutes months into his TCU career, having played just 12 minutes across five appearances and coming into the night scoreless on the season.
That changed in a big way Tuesday night.
The freshman entered the game with 5:39 remaining in the first half and the Frogs trailing 31-24, he, along with fellow freshman Taryn Todd, combined to score the final nine points of the first half on a trio of triples, sending the teams into the locker room knotted at 38. “We were down nine, came back and tied it up at halftime. It’s fun hearing the crowd and having my teammates get hype for me,” Frank said. “It’s been really hard to be on the sidelines every game and not be able to help my team win.”
Coming from being a super star in the high school ranks to an afterthought at the next level is a difficult adjustment for young athletes, just take a look at the transfer portal. But Frank bid his time and kept working, hoping his opportunity would come. When it did, he made the most of it. “Terren Frank was huge for us,” Dixon said, commenting on how the coaching staff had challenged him in practice over the last week. “You’ve got to play harder in practice, got to get after it more, this season isn’t over for you. We need you.” The coach was happy with the way his young player stepped up, especially on defense. “He guarded really well on the perimeter, that was interesting to see.” Frank said he knew that defense was the key to staying on the floor Tuesday, and made a point to “have pride in my defense. I don’t want to let the opponent get a good play off on me. Defense will keep me on the court.” But his work on offense hasn’t gone unnoticed either, and that paid off as well. “He’s been in the gym, working on his own, trying to get him more physical and college ready. I don’t know if I have ever seen a player improve their shot more over six months than he has,” Dixon said.
Frank earned the second half start, but both teams would struggle to score in streaks in the second stanza, posting 0-8, 0-11, and 1-14 runs. Despite getting good looks, the Frogs couldn’t convert, falling behind by as many as eight with 12 minutes to play. But TCU wasn’t going to go away, and in dominating the glass, gave themselves the extra opportunities they need to claw back in it. Charles O’Bannon scored nine straight points for the Frogs to cut the Cyclone lead to three, and RJ Nembhard — who had just six points in the first half and called it an “ugly game” for himself — tied things up at 64 with a monster dunk with just over five minutes to play.
After shooting nearly 45% in the first half, they converted just 11-33 shots in the second, hanging tight thanks to a ridiculous rebounding advantage of 51-34 in the game and 29-19 in the second half.
Thankfully, Iowa State didn’t shoot it much better at 38% from the floor, and after going 5-12 from deep in the first half made just 2-11 in the second.
The Frogs turned it on offensively as time ticked down, sparked by a beautiful drive and finish by Todd to put TCU on top for the first time since the 17:10 mark and punctuated by a Chuck O’Bannon block that was kept inbounds by Terren Frank. RJ drove the ball hard to the bucket for the hoop and the harm, and his three point play put TCU on top by five with 2:17 remaining. After a pair of free throws, Frank connected on a mid-range J with the shot clock winding down, to extend the lead to five, and the icing on the cake came on a beautiful press break that led to a wide open PJ Fuller flushing it home with :24 seconds remaining to seal it. “We dug in and got some stops down the stretch: big stops, big rebounds, big blocks. We stayed together and stayed connected,” Nembhard said. As far as playing an 0-12 team close, he added that the opponent doesn’t matter, only the win. “Teams are not going to just lay down, whether you’re in first or last place. You’ve got to come with your A game every night.”
The Frogs might not have played their A game Tuesday, but they did enough to win, even with one of their most important players sidelined. Contributions by Kevin Samuel — who was dealing with back soreness after colliding with the stanchion — and Jaedon LeDee made the difference, as TCU out-rebounded the Cyclones and dominated the points in the paint 34-20 — and that’s despite missing at least a dozen easy ones at the rim. “We talked what we thought we would get production-wise out of Kevin and Jaedon, and now we are getting it,” Dixon said. The interior duo combined for 19 points and 19 rebounds, with Samuel earning a double double in just 22 minutes of play. He also got great production out of Taryn Todd, who scored the first four points of the game and finished the night with 11, adding five rebounds and four assists, and PJ Fuller, who had 11 as well coupled with five rebounds. O’Bannon was an energizer bunny who made massive plays on both ends of the floor — including the critical block as well as a put back off of a missed free throw halfway through the second half that cut the lead to three. He had seven points and seven rebounds to go alongside a pair of blocked shots. Even Nembhard, who started so slowly, finished with 20, with a big assist from his 11-13 night from the free throw line.
Things don’t get any easier for TCU, who travels to Austin Saturday to take on the surprising Longhorns, a contender for a number one seed in March Madness. “This league, it is what it is,” Dixon said. “People that know, there’s no question this league has been dominant over the last 5, 6, 7 years — and maybe even more so this year.” He also praised the “COVID home court” that the student section is building, closing his press conference with “thank you Frog Army.”