Before he stepped to the free-throw line, TCU point guard Alex Robinson looked toward his bench. A pair of assistant coaches were staring back at him, signaling for him to slow down, take a couple of dribbles and then unleash the attempt.
Good in theory.
Not in execution.
Kansas State bounced TCU from the Big 12 tournament with a 66-64 overtime victory, secured Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City when Robinson missed a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.
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That effectively rendered moot TCU guard Desmond Bane’s game-tying, buzzer-beating three-pointer in regulation.
TCU had led the majority of the second half — once by nine points — before conceding it over the final five minutes.
“I don’t know that we finished as good we (could) have,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “We had a good lead and just didn’t get it done down the stretch. I’m disappointed to have that lead and let it get away from us, but we know why we did it, and we’re going to learn from it and get better for it.”
Kansas State guard Barry Brown made a layup with 11 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner. In a semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday, Kansas State will face Kansas.
TCU simply waits. In about 72 hours, TCU players and coaches will gather around televisions with a sense of optimism they haven’t felt on Selection Sunday in two decades.
But they depart Kansas City losing an opportunity to improve their seeding. The late-game miraculous shot from Bane — an off-balanced attempt that narrowly left his fingertips before the red lights plastered across the backboard — only temporarily hid a series of late-game blunders.
It was the blunders — not the shot — that Dixon was focused on afterward. Why? They have become a trend.
The Horned Frogs (21-11) are 0-7 in their past seven games decided by five points or fewer. And they can point toward two prominent criteria: Free throws and shot selection.
Robinson had a chance to send the game to a second overtime with a pair of free throws in the final seconds, but the first one rolled off the rim, and he was forced to miss the second intentionally.
“Looking forward, just gotta move on and continue to work to get better and learn from the situation,” Robinson said.
TCU was 7 of 14 from the free-thrown line. Kansas State was 11 of 17.
It’s not a one-game blip. In studying the Horned Frogs’ inability to close out leads — take the season finale against Texas Tech as the previous example — Dixon has settled on fouling as one of the culprits. He’s added poor shot selection as another. There’s a commonality between the two — they are both self-inflicted wounds, one on each end of the court.
At one point in the second half, with TCU seizing the game’s momentum, senior guard Kenrich Williams dribbled the ball down the court, stopped at the top of the key and took a three-pointer early in the shot clock that clanked off the rim. On the nearby sideline, Dixon stomped his foot and clapped his hands in frustration. Williams finished with a game-best 20 points.
“We feel we should have won these two games down the stretch, but we didn’t,” Dixon said. “It’s two of the same things — shot selection a little bit late when we had the leads, and the foul line. Gotta get to the foul line; gotta make more free throws. So we gotta get more free throws than our opponent. That’s a big goal for us.”
The time is running thin, and for the first time in two decades, TCU is set to enter the NCAA tournament field, where the importance of executing those late-game situations will only grow. Dixon made his case for TCU earning a comfortable seed — pointing toward the team’s RPI. But in the next breath, he reiterated the importance of closing out leads. It’s a message that his players repeated.
“It’s going to be like this for the rest of the year, for the rest of the games left,” Williams said. “We know it’s lose or go home, so we’re going to go out and play hard."
TCU (21-11): Brodziansky 5-9 3-4 13, Noi 2-5 1-2 6, Bane 1-4 0-0 3, Williams 8-15 2-3 20, Robinson 6-15 1-5 16, Hamdy 2-4 0-0 4, Miller 1-1 0-0 2, Olden 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 7-14 64.
KANSAS ST. (22-10): Sneed 4-12 3-6 12, Mawien 6-7 4-4 16, Wade 5-9 0-0 12, Brown 4-11 3-5 11, Diarra 2-6 1-2 5, Stockard 3-3 0-0 6, Wainright 1-3 0-0 2, Stokes 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 26-56 11-17 66.
Halftime—30-30. End Of Regulation—Tied 59. 3-Point Goals—TCU 7-17 (Robinson 3-5, Williams 2-3, Bane 1-2, Noi 1-4, Olden 0-1, Brodziansky 0-2), Kansas St. 3-15 (Wade 2-2, Sneed 1-7, Brown 0-1, Wainright 0-1, Diarra 0-2, Stokes 0-2). Fouled Out—Mawien, Bane. Rebounds—TCU 32 (Williams 10), Kansas St. 30 (Mawien 9). Assists—TCU 14 (Robinson 6), Kansas St. 12 (Diarra 5). Total Fouls—TCU 18, Kansas St. 16.