The so-close-but-no-cigar routine is getting old for TCU.
Coach Trent Johnson and his players are getting tired of the familiar feeling that cropped up after No. 15 Texas held on for a 59-54 win Tuesday night at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
The Longhorns (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) won their seventh in a row since opening conference play 0-2. For Texas fans, which made up about half of the 5,233 in attendance, the win elicited a sigh of relief.
It was clear the Horned Frogs weren’t going to allow Texas to waltz to victory. Whether it was a case of a Longhorns letdown after beating Kansas on Saturday or taking a victory over TCU — which is still looking for its first Big 12 win — for granted, it was apparent early that the Frogs weren’t going to fade without a fight.
TCU (9-12, 0-9) led 22-20 after finishing the first half on an 8-2 run. Both teams shot poorly in the first half and combined for 15 turnovers, including 10 for Texas.
Five minutes into the second half, Brandon Parrish hit a 3 from the corner to give TCU its largest lead of the game, 32-28. That sort of woke up Texas, or at least forward Jonathan Holmes, and TCU’s lead didn’t last long.
Holmes took over, scoring seven consecutive points to give Texas a 35-32 lead with 12:36 left. Holmes hit a 3 on an inbounds pass and finished the stretch by converting a three-point play on a layup and foul. Before the run, Holmes was 1 for 7 from the field. He finished with a game-high 20 points and 16 rebounds.
“We weren’t executing on offense,” Holmes said. “Their zone was slowing us down a little bit. It got stagnant at times. [The 7-0 run] was in the flow of the game. The guards did a really good job of looking for me.”
TCU has struggled with rebounding for much of the season, and Texas, the league’s top rebounding team, exploited the disparity by outrebounding the Frogs 56-25.
“I mean, that’s ridiculous,” said Amric Fields, who led TCU with 16 points and eight rebounds. “And that’s where the game was. Right there.”
It’s been a tough four-game stretch for the Frogs, who have had chances to win in all of them except a loss to Kansas. Playing top-ranked teams close makes it no easier to swallow.
“When you have good kids and you’re trying to build something and they put everything they have into it, whether it’s 20, whether it’s 30, whether it’s 1 or 2, losing is painful,” said an exasperated Trent Johnson, whose team held Texas to 31 percent from the field, a season-low for TCU opponents. “Regardless who’s out there, it’s still a loss. It’s painful.”
Painful because despite the huge rebounding disparity, TCU had plenty of chances to nab the win in the final four minutes. Brandon Parrish twice was fouled on layups but both times missed the ensuing free throw. The second of those free-throw attempts would have tied the score at 50-50 with 3:45 remaining.
Instead, Holmes grabbed an offensive rebound at the other end, was fouled and sank both free throws to stretch Texas’ lead to 52-49. Parrish responded with a 3-pointer to tie it at 52-52 with 3:14 to go, but Holmes came right back after another Texas offensive rebound to hit a 3 from the corner to put the ’Horns back up for good, 55-52, with 2:41 remaining.
TCU didn’t score again until Christian Gore’s reverse layup cut the deficit to 57-54 with 45 seconds to go. After a Texas timeout, Cameron Ridley was fouled after an offensive rebound and made both free throws to give Texas a secure five-point cushion with seven seconds left.
Fields said it’s getting tough to find any moral victory in staying close with top-20 teams.
“I think it’s fading a little bit,” Fields said. “We’re not satisfied with just keeping people close. We feel we’re tougher than what we show.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes said his team played tentatively in the first half, which contributed to 10 of the Longhorns’ first-half turnovers. They only had three after the break.
“The first half we definitely played not to lose,” he said. “We haven’t had 10 turnovers in a long time. It was because we were turning down shots. At the end, we’ve been in those kinds of games all year. We were tentative, and we can’t play that way.”
TCU at No. 16 Iowa State, 3 p.m. Saturday, Ames, Iowa