The script seemed to unfold eerily similar. Down 18 points to a Top 25 opponent, TCU mounts a valiant comeback to force overtime.
But unlike the Horned Frogs' victory over then-No. 11 UNLV Feb. 14, No. 21 San Diego State was able to hold on and escape with a 98-92 overtime victory Saturday in front of a crowd of 5,955 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
TCU rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 83-80 lead on Hank Thorns' 3-pointer with 1:46 left in regulation. But with less than 30 seconds left, the Aztecs' Tim Shelton secured an offensive rebound on Jamaal Franklin's missed 3-pointer. Shelton was fouled on a layup with 21 seconds left. He made the free throw to tie it and Thorns' running jumper in the paint was too hard at the end of regulation.
"We know we had our opportunities," TCU coach Jim Christian said. "We just have to get that rebound. If we get that rebound the game is probably over right there. I don't think we played as well as we have at home."
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That was surely the case in the first half when the Aztecs shot 56.7 percent from the field, repeatedly finding an open lane or open man on the baseline for easy baskets to lead by 12 at the break.
TCU (17-13, 7-7 in the Mountain West) started to make its run with 13 minutes to go. J.R. Cadot's 3-pointer capped a 9-3 run with 9:41 left to cut the deficit to 71-64. Cadot, who scored a career-high 24 points, scored six of the Frogs' eight points in another run to cut the deficit to 75-72, the last of the flurry coming on a steal and a coast-to-coast drive for a layup with 7:13 left.
"They were getting anything they wanted [in the first half]," Cadot said. "We tried to adjust in the second half. We turned it around and went out fighting."
Franklin scored four of his career-high 35 points in overtime as the Aztecs took a quick five-point lead. TCU cut the lead to 3 with 26 seconds remaining but the Aztecs (24-6, 10-4) made 7 of 11 free throws in overtime to hold on. Thorns scored 21 of his team-high 25 points in the second half and overtime.
The Aztecs earned the No. 1 seed in the MWC tournament beginning Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. TCU, the fifth seed, plays fourth-seed Colorado State (19-10, 8-6) at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round. The teams split during the regular season.
"We're good at moving on," Cadot said. "We know we're a good team. We don't let losses like this get to us. We have a lot of basketball left."
TCU, which had won eight consecutive games at home and was 6-0 at home in the league until Saturday, appeared poised to pull off its third consecutive upset of a Top 25 team until Shelton tied it with 21 seconds to go in regulation.
"It looked like they were going to storm from behind and not allow us to win and he gets the basket and foul," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We knew they weren't going to go away. We saw what they did against Vegas. This is a team that competes, just like we do."
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760