TCU headed to Starkville to face Mississippi State and their large lineup in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with no Eddie Lampkin. TCU headed into the game on a high, knocking off Kansas a week prior, followed by a completely dominating win over an Oklahoma squad who would go on to do the same to #2 Alabama in said conference challenge. Miss. State was on a 5 game skid, having dropped tough contests to ranked opponents Alabama, Tennessee, and Auburn.
Still, the Frogs found themselves short three times thon Saturday. Without Lampkin, Jakoby Coles and Xavier Cork were the main courses of action to try and suppress Tolu Smith, the looming big man for the Bulldogs and simply were “too small” for the task as the Smith continuously ate all afternoon long against Coles, Cork, and the entire squad. Second, the Frogs found themselves even more shorthanded as Mike Miles suffered an injury early in the game that took him out for the remainder of it (more on that later), and lastly, TCU just couldn’t keep up with Smith and squad through 45 minutes, coming up short in overtime as Mississippi State went on a run after TCU scored an easy first bucket just seconds into the extra frame.
TCU knew that this matchup wasn’t ideal for the squad, especially missing Eddie Lampkin. Tolu Smith is a beast of a big man at 6’11” and 250, averaging nearly 15 points and 8 rebounds a game. Without Lampkin, most of the defensive assignments were expected to fall to Coles and Cork (standing at 6’7” and 6’9” respectively), and the mismatch was immediately clear. Tolu Smith got off to a hot start, not just scoring at an efficient rate—he started the game 8-10 from the field—but also helping create opportunities for the Bulldog guards by clogging the lane with defenders and earning some second chance scoring opportunities with tip-outs to the three point line. As TCU was struggling to find an answer for Smith, the Bulldogs managed to start hitting some threes, something they hadn’t done much of all season, and jumping out to a lead that pushed double digits. Coming into the game, Mississippi State had made less than 30 three pointers all season, but they connected on seven against TCU.
Early in the half, Mike Miles went to cut through the lane, but planted awkwardly and appeared to hyperextend his knee. He was immediately down and in pain, and clearly would not be returning to the game. Down Lampkin, then down the leading scorer and potential Big 12 Player of the Year, the adverse climb increased in difficulty. Damien Baugh and Shahada Wells worked to keep TCU close in the first half, and as the final minute slipped away in the half, TCU was down 11 when both had a series of plays to inject life into the Frogs. Wells scored a nice layup on a smooth drive to the basket, then immediately stole the inbound pass, leading to another quick score. Mississippi State got the ball back, missed a shot, but then Damien Baugh was intentionally fouled with one second left, getting free throws to make it a two-score game heading into the half. He hit one, and the Frogs headed to the locker room suddenly down only six, rather than 10+.
Tolu Smith got any and everything he wanted, especially in the first half, but credit TCU for coming out strong after making some adjustments in the second half. The 1-2-2 soft press helped control tempo in the half, the zone defense allowed for collaborate defense against Smith, and Mississippi State was known for letting early leads slip away. Miller came into the second half with a quick score to make it a four-point game, and the see-saw was in motion. TCU grinded away through the second half. As Tolu Smith and Dashawn Davis hit shots for MSU, TCU found ways to respond. TCU led late in the game, with their largest lead of 4 coming with under 2 minutes to play. Still Mississippi State kept getting shots to fall. After TCU scored to tie the game with under a minute to play, the Bulldogs found themselves with the ball and seemingly the last possession. But, the TCU defense once again stepped up, forcing a missed shot, and the running jumper at the end of regulation failed to drop—side note, it looked like Coles had slipped the play and there was a possibility of throwing a long lob to him to try and beat the buzzer—and the teams were headed to overtime. With Miles out and getting torched by Tolu Smith, you have to admire that TCU had the grit to stay in the game, find a late lead and push it to overtime even, but we were left wondering when the Frogs luck would run out in Starkville. That moment appeared to be with 4:30 left in overtime. After a quick layup to get the extra frame started, it was all Bulldogs. Smith continued his tear, and Shakeel Moore hit back to back threes to seal the deal for Mississippi State.
On paper, TCU played to a point where they could have won this game, save two areas: three-point shooting—the well is once again dry—6-27 from deep is generally a recipe for a poor offensive outing for the Frogs, and stopping Tolu Smith. We simply did not have the matchup needed to hold him up. He ended the game with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.
From a positive perspective, TCU took care of the ball again (10 turnovers), earned 13 offensive rebounds (although we were outrebounded by 12 total) and combined for 7 steals and 2 blocks to aid the fast break. Still, the Frogs found themselves in the face of a tough matchup and losing Miles early definitely seemed like the nail in the coffin on this one. Miles was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee, seemed positive on Twitter with the prognosis, and we will wait to see what the MRI reveals about his expected duration out of the lineup. We are hoping it’s not severe and while he will certainly miss some time, hopefully he’s back and able to get tuned up ahead of the tournament.
There’s a stretch of games on the horizon that seem formidable and even more foreboding without Miles (at K-State, v. Baylor, at ISU consecutively in February), but first TCU takes on West Virginia at home on Tuesday, followed by a trip to Stillwater on Saturday afternoon.