Losing players must be contagious in the TCU athletic department.
TCU men's basketball, seemingly following the lead of the Horned Frogs football team, which has lost numerous starters before and during its season, was down another integral starter Thursday night at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
The absence of Nate Butler, who missed the game with a knee injury, led to junior Thomas Montigel making his first career start.
Montigel, a Fort Worth Paschal graduate, was tasked with defending Southern Utah's leading scorer Jackson Stevenett and turned in a dandy performance.
The Frogs (6-2) defeated the Thunderbirds 61-52 in front of an announced crowd of 3,867 as Montigel and the TCU defense held Stevenett to one point on 0-for-10 shooting. Stevenett, who had missed Southern Utah's previous game with an injury, entered the game averaging 16.7 points a game.
"Thomas did a heck of a job," TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "He's always ready to play. He's got a great understanding of what we're trying to do. He's a smart kid. I couldn't be happier for him because we don't win the game if he doesn't play well."
If Montigel, who also scored a career-high five points and had three rebounds, was the defensive key, Kyan Anderson and Devonta Abron were the keys on offense. Anderson led TCU with 21 points. Abron finished with a career-high 17 points, including 13 in the second half.
"[Butler's] another big loss and we knew who we had to step up, especially on the defensive side," Anderson said. "We're all just trying to step up and do the little things that they did. We've been going as hard as possible, and I feel like they've been giving the effort to get thrown in games like this."
TCU led 31-28 at the break, but briefly trailed with 10 minutes left before Abron heated up in the paint. Garlon Green and Adrick McKinney each had seven points. The Thunderbirds (1-5) kept it close until late behind Damon Heuir's game-high 25 points.
"I should have switched Thomas and put him on Damon [Heuir]," Johnson said. "That's what teams are about."
Johnson said Butler could have played, but he chose to let him heal. Butler will be available Tuesday against Houston, Johnson said.
"If he doesn't trip over his shoelaces tomorrow," quipped Johnson, who has lost three major contributors because of injuries, including Amric Fields and Aaron Durley for the season.