Markquis Nowell was the best player on the floor for most of Wednesday night, and the 5’8” guard for the Cats came up bigger than his slight stature time and time again to get Kansas State within 24 seconds of their first Big 12 win of the season.
But being the best player on the floor for most of the night doesn’t mean much when one of the best damn players in the country still has a chance to show out.
It was a frustrating game to watch, so one can only imagine how it felt to be a player/coach; it often looked like the Horned Frogs were the better, more talented team, but poor shooting from the free throw line and countless unforced errors appear to be dooming TCU to its second consecutive conference loss.
Currently last place in the Big 12, K State has played each of their first three opponents tough, using staunch defense and impressive three point shooting to stay in just about every game they’ve played only to seemingly lose them all in heartbreaking fashion. Wednesday, though, they closed — much to the chagrin of the visiting team’s fanbase, many of whom saw the game as a must-win for a team hoping to scrape its way into March Madness come spring.
The Frogs started slow on both ends of the floor, seemingly hungover from Saturday’s heartbreaker and having left their defense on the tarmac. Making just two of their first 11 shots and shooting a dismal 18% from the field through the first half of the first half, TCU got out-scored, out-hustled, and out-worked by the Wildcats throughout most of the game’s first 20 minutes. But a 7-0 run out of a late timeout helped Jamie Dixon’s team head the locker room with a slight one point advantage, something that seemed a relief after the way the first half had gone.
It must have been a rousing halftime speech by Dixon, as TCU came out hot, jumping out to a ten point lead as they dropped 14 quick points across the first four minutes of play. But much as they seem to do every time these teams play, the Cats clawed back, with Nowell leading the charge on both ends of the floor. At one point, the Frogs went six possessions in a row that ended in a turnover, finishing the night with 16 turnovers overall. It seemed that every turnover led to a score on the other end, and soon the ten point disadvantage had become a six point lead. Nowell put on an absolute show, as the NYC born PG gave a Rucker Park worthy performance, beating defenders off the bounce with ease, hitting deep threes, and setting up his teammates as the Frogs’ defense turned its attention to the UALR transfer. Nowell finished with 18 points on 7-12 shooting and was literally inches away from three more, when his shot at the buzzer from 3⁄4 court was just inches too long. But we will get to that in a minute.
Down 52-57 with 1:50 to play, a score that held until the final 1:11, TCU looked to be down for the count. When Baugh missed the front end of a two shot free throw circuit, it seemed the game was over. It was the 11th free throw miss of the night for the Frogs — but it would be the last — and Damion would more than redeem himself just moments later. After his second shot was true to cut the lead to just four, TCU forced a three point miss on the other end, though Mike’s deep trey in response was off the mark as well. Fortunately for the Frogs, Emanuel Miller came to battle, pulling down a critical offensive rebound — his tenth board of the night — and one that he was able to turn into two points with a put back. Now down just two, and with neither team having a timeout to spare, the Frogs turned up the full court pressure, setting a beautiful trap in the corner that led to a Nijel Pack travel and gave them back the ball, down two and with :18 ticks to play.
With all eyes on him, Mike Miles gathered the ensuing inbounds pass and drove hard to the hoop, using the vision that the elite guards have to glimpse a waiting Baugh out of the corner of his eye, and making the kind of pass that has NBA scouts salivating at his potential. Baugh, who was just 5-13 from beyond the arc heading into the game but 2-3 on the night, released a perfectly arced shot that laced through the net with a satisfying swish — and put his team up one with 11 seconds remaining.
I mean, look at this. Look at the drive. The vision. The pass. The SHOT. Perfection.
Bradford lost the handle on a layup attempt as the Cats looked to steal back the lead, and Miles calmly drained two free throws to put his team up three with 1.4 seconds remaining. Nowell got a good look from long, but his shot was just long, allowing TCU to steal a game on the road that they had no business winning — but that they had to have if they want to be dancing down the line. It was an 8-0 run in just 71 seconds, and the kind of game that good teams find a way to win — whether they deserve it or not.
Miles finished the with 19 to lead the Frogs and continue his season-long streak of double digit scoring efforts. Baugh’s 12 were the second highest tally, and Miller’s near double double (9/10) kept the Frogs alive. Eddie Lampkin added nine points and six boards and was critical in the early second half stretch that gave his team some breathing room for a while.
Nowell was one of three Wildcats in double figures and his performance was certainly one that was good enough to get his team a win. As fun as he was to watch Wednesday, it’s okay to be glad that he ended the night sad.
TCU next faces a resurgent Oklahoma team that has played well for Porter Moser in his first season at the helm. Tip-off is set for Saturday, January 15th at 3:00pm at Schollmaier Arena. Get your popcorn ready, as Miles will face off against another entertaining guard in Sooner freshman Bijan Cortes, who led his team to an upset over then #11 Iowa State last weekend.