TCU’s improvement from a year ago was on display again Saturday in a Big 12 Conference opener against West Virginia.
The announced crowd of 5,038 at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum also saw why TCU coach Trent Johnson has repeatedly hammered home how important rebounding and fighting for loose balls will be for the Horned Frogs.
The Mountaineers (9-5, 1-0 Big 12) escaped with a 74-69 win thanks in large part to a decided rebounding advantage that afforded 17 second-chance points. WVU wasn’t exactly the best rebounding team a year ago, which made it a point of emphasis for coach Bob Huggins during the preseason.
TCU (9-4, 0-1) was outrebounded 38-30, including 17 to 8 on the offensive glass, which allowed the Mountaineers to hold off the Frogs’ down the stretch.
“Any time you give a team of that caliber 17 offensive rebounds, that’s going to hurt you,” Johnson said.
“We got into foul trouble and forced to play some guys more minutes than we need to play them. With exception of some crucial free throws we missed, it was probably a pretty good basketball game.”
Other factors hindered TCU, including both Kyan Anderson and Charles Hill Jr. fouling out with the game still in doubt. Anderson left the game with TCU trailing 63-60 with more than six minutes left. Hill left with over three minutes remaining and a four-point WVU lead.
But WVU couldn’t shake TCU, which still had a chance to win despite these problems. A year ago, WVU pulled away early with 21- and 13-point wins against the Frogs.
For much of crunch time, TCU had three or four freshmen on the floor. One of those was former Arlington Seguin star Brandon Parrish, whose 3-pointer cut WVU’s lead to 67-65 with 3:06 left.
After a jumper from WVU’s Juwan Staten pushed the lead back to four, Amric Fields’ layup on a crisp pass from Karviar Shepherd cut TCU’s deficit back to 69-67 with 2:11 to go.
TCU couldn’t slow Staten, who responded with a driving layup and then hit a free throw to push the lead to five with 33 seconds left. Michael Williams and Parrish missed 3-point attempts, plus a jumper from Williams was blocked, all on the same TCU possession. Staten’s layup at the other end iced the game for the Mountaineers.
TCU started the game on fire from outside, hitting its first seven 3-point attempts. But the Frogs cooled off and finished the game making just two of their final 12 attempts.
“There’s nothing they did defensively that hurt us,” Johnson said. “We hurt ourselves by not rebounding the ball. We had plenty of open shots.”
Eron Harris, who leads the Big 12 in scoring, didn’t start because of an illness but came off the bench to lead WVU with 22 points. Fields led TCU with 22 points and five rebounds. TCU’s bench, thinned by injuries, was outscored 28-11.
“We just got manhandled on the boards,” Fields said. “We’ve got to learn how to rebound out of a zone, which is tough because you have no man. But it’s something we can do and we just have to work on it.”
TCU hosts Kansas State (11-3, 1-0) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at DMC. The Wildcats opened with a 74-71 win over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
“I think they’re greatly improved,” Huggins said of TCU. “Trent can get guys open, he can’t make [shots] for them.
“They suffer from what we’re suffering from and seemingly a lot of people around college basketball: they’re young. When you’re young, you’re just not as good a player, honestly, as what you eventually will be.”