TCU Basketball didn’t look like they wanted to play Wednesday night.
Much like a year ago, the Horned Frogs were matched up with a Kansas State team that they were pretty heavily favored to beat in the opening game of the Big 12 Tournament — and much like a year ago, they rolled over and put up very little fight as they limped out of Kansas City almost as quickly as they arrived.
In what was an offensive offensive performance, it took nearly three minutes for TCU to get on the board — via a Chuck O’Bannon three pointer — and after that early 3-2 advantage, they would fall behind as many as 10 over the next ten minutes, until an 8-0 run tied things up at 17. Kevin Samuel gave the Frogs their first lead since those opening minutes on a second-chance layup, and TCU would push their lead to four with 2:49 to play in the half. But the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run from there, hitting a pair of threes in the final minute to take a six point lead into the locker room. “I thought we fought pretty good in the first half, had the lead, but they got those two threes and had momentum going into the half,” Jamie Dixon said.
Kansas State had all of the momentum, and wouldn’t give it back when play resumed.
“We looked tired to be honest,” Dixon lamented when asked about the second half. A team that has not had a normal practice schedule and played a really good Texas team Sunday night ran out of legs in what would be their final 20 minutes of basketball this season. “I was concerned about our fatigue — I’ve been concerned all season long. Maybe playing the Sunday night game, it just seemed to wear us down. We didn’t have the energy to play a team playing this aggressive and this good.”
Mike McGuirl had energy in spades, and he got help.
The senior guard drained a three to get the Cats rolling, and they would go up 12 before PJ Fuller answered from deep. The Frogs would get the lead down to six with four minutes elapsed, but a 12-2 K State run in response would end any hint of a comeback. The Cats were on fire down the stretch, shooting 50% from the field and hitting 4-11 from deep, with Nijel Pack highlighting his 23 point night with two more from long range (he hit 6-7 of his attempts from behind the arc). McGuirl dropped 13 of his 17 points in the final 20 minutes, while the Frogs got just 12 points combined by stars RJ Nembhard and Mike Miles down the stretch. TCU turned it over nine times in the second half and 17 in the game, as they shot 37% from the field and were a dismal 4-19 from three and 6-12 from the free throw line.
It was the lack of effort that was most troubling for Nembhard, a redshirt junior with an NBA decision ahead of him. “I thought that we were going to have more energy in the second half, given that it was a win and go home — we just couldn’t get it going.”
TCU heads home after a short stint in Kansas City, with a lot of big questions to answer. Technically, every player on the 2020-2021 roster is eligible to return next fall, but with the high history of turnover in this program, it’s highly unlikely that happens. Nembhard and Kevin Samuel will have pro futures to weigh, and there will be unhappy guys at the end of the bench who will look for greener pastures. The long term health of Francisco Farabello, still dealing with lingering effects under the catch-all “COVID protocols” is expected to be back to full strength before preparation for next season begins, but that’s still to be determined in actuality.
And, of course, Jamie Dixon has questions to answer as well, and — even with a COVID year pass — will face higher expectations the next time his team takes the floor. “I thought there were some times over the season when we were turning the corner, going to get it together. Then we would take a step back. We have a lot to work on to get this program to where I want it to be.”
The motivation should be there for the players; with basically eight new players, getting their first taste of Big 12 Basketball in a season where the team as a whole never truly got its footing, there were growing pains expected. But no one expected this — and no one will accept it next year. “It was very disappointing. You work hard from June on — to see it go out like this is very frustrating, very difficult,” Nembahrd said. “Staying together through adversity is something we’ve got to work on in the off season.”
The off-season is what the Horned Frogs face now, as it begins earlier than anyone anticipated back when the season began with such promise.