TCU finally put away a scrappy Milwaukee team with a little less than two minutes remaining Tuesday to advance in the College Basketball Invitational.
The Horned Frogs (18-14) defeated the Panthers (20-14) 83-73 but needed some clutch shooting and tough defense in the final 1:34 in front of 1,062 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
Amric Fields hit two free throws and J.R. Cadot made a baseline jumper on a nice assist by Hank Thorns to give the Frogs a nine-point cushion with a minute left.
TCU advances to the quarterfinals against an opponent to be determined. Tonight's Oregon State-Western Illinois winner was set up as the next opponent on the bracket, but the CBI reseeds after the first round. The quarterfinal games are scheduled for Monday at a time and site to be determined.
The Frogs consistently held a small lead but could never break the game open. The Panthers were able to hang around behind the play of forward James Haarsma, Kaylon Williams and Tony Meier.
Haarsma led all scorers with 17 points and was an issue defensively for TCU until he fouled out with just under five minutes remaining. Thorns drove the lane, made the shot and caused the foul to put the Frogs up 73-64 with 4:40 left in the game.
Nate Butler, who had made 8 3-point shots this season, came off the bench and helped hold off the Panthers in the second half with a 3-for-3 night from beyond the arc.
"He's always been a good shooter," said Fields, who had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. "It's great for his confidence in the next game."
The win was a lift for the team's confidence, too. Coach Jim Christian explained that players having moments such as Butler's in the second half is why teams play in postseason tournaments.
"He hasn't played well in two months and he hits three 3s," Christian said. "So when people ask why do you play in these tournaments, as if it's the NCAA Tournament or NIT, or nothing. That's why you play. So these guys get a chance to build their confidence, to develop their games. Get a chance to play better basketball so we can move the program forward. That's what people have to understand."
It also gives the seniors a better sendoff than the disappointing first-round loss in the Mountain West tournament.
Senior Craig Williams led the Frogs with 14 points and Thorns, playing with sore ribs, had 10 points and five assists. The Frogs shot nearly 50 percent from the field, including 45 percent from the 3-point arc, a big improvement since shooting 2 of 20 against Colorado State last week.
"We've done that all year, especially at home," Christian said of shooting 3-pointers. "I want to see guys continue to develop. and keep doing the things we want to get better at. We were so disappointed with how we played against Colorado State. It wasn't how we played for the last month and a half."