Early on, there was a staggering difference in the athleticism and the “want-to” between Texas and TCU. It was obvious through the first few minutes of Sunday night’s matchup between Texas — at one point the #4 team in the country — and TCU — already locked into the eighth seed for next week’s Big 12 Tournament.
But there is still a lot of pride is this team, despite the fact they have, by most accounts, underachieved in 2021.
And though ultimately it wouldn’t be enough, they kept fighting for all 40 minutes.
“I was encouraged, at least today — we got some baskets at the end and kept fighting,” Jamie Dixon said. “We’re not looking for any consolation prizes or moral victories here — we’ve got to be better.”
Texas’ biggest lead of the first half was seven points, a margin they first hit with just under eight minutes to play in the period. After trading buckets with TCU, they would get themselves back to that seven point cushion with 6:53 to play, only to see the Horned Frogs go on a 6-0 run to make it a 23-22 ball game as time wound down. Mike Miles would tie things up at 25 after the teams traded buckets, and a late flurry would send both squads into the locker room with the Longhorns holding a 33-29 advantage. TCU picked things up considerably on the defensive end down the first half stretch, holding the Horns without a bucket for the final 2:07 — but scoring just once themselves in the final two minutes.
The Longhorns kept finding the bottom of the net in the second half, as Courtney Ramey seemed to single-handedly break up any TCU run by hitting a three pointer. The junior guard had 13 points on the night — including 11 in the second half — connecting on three of his five three point attempts. In all, the Longhorns hit 53% of their three point attempts across the final 20 minutes (including a 3-3 second half and 4-4 night from Andrew Jones), using that accuracy to stretch the lead to as many as 18 and to hold off the Frogs every time they cut the deficit to a one or two possession affair.
It wasn’t just Ramey, though; UT players put on an absolute clinic on offense, rocking the rim with seven dunks and assisting on 20 of their 30 made field goals. The Frogs, meanwhile, turned it over 22 times — leading to 22 Longhorn points, made just 24 field goals, and gave up 32 points in the paint. They were right there in the rebounding battle (22 to Texas’ 23) and had good production off of the bench (20 points, led by Easley’s 11), but allowed 11 three pointers and could never quite get the stops they needed down the stretch. “We’re just not good enough defensively. I keep thinking it’s going to happen tomorrow. You can’t let a team shoot 53% against you,” Dixon lamented in his post game press conference.
TCU got within six with 12:54 to play, after Kevin Easley knocked down a three. But Ramey responded with a trey of his own, a Nembhard turnover turned into a Kai Jones layup, and the ensuing 8-0 run would put the Frogs away, who were never closer than eight over the final 10 minutes. “I thought we were going to win tonight. I really believed it,” Dixon said. “I thought there were some moments, but when you’re young — you’re distracted, you doubt, you look for something else. They simply outplayed us.”
The only silver lining was the 35 seconds of play that former walk-on Owen Aschieris, along with current walk-ons Dylan Arnette and Harrison Young got on the court as time expired.
Oh, and there was this, too:
Andrew Jones led all scorers with 16 — one of five Longhorns in double figures. TCU got 13 points from Nembhard, 12/6/4 from Mike Miles, and 11 from Kevin Easley, with PJ Fuller (7), Chuck O’Bannon and Kevin Samuel (6 each), and Jaedon LeDee (5) contributing as well. Samuel and LeDee needed more touches, but against the size and length of the Texas front line, just couldn’t get much going. They had ten combined attempts and seven combined boards Sunday night.
TCU will face a familiar foe in Kansas City when the Big 12 Tournament begins Wednesday; it was a year ago that Kansas State knocked the Frogs out of the tourney in what would be the last game of the Big 12 season as COVID-19 shut down sports.
Let’s hope, in multiple ways, things are much different in 2021. For his part, Coach Dixon believes it can — and will. “That’s what I told our guys: we’re eighth place, [there will probably be] seven NCAA Tournament teams: I said crazy things have happened.”