As debuts to new coaching gigs go, TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon experienced plenty of warm, fuzzy moments during Friday’s 82-64 romp past the University of St. Thomas.
Not only did the fans turn out in respectable numbers to watch a mismatch against an NAIA opponent in Schollmaier Arena, but the Horned Frogs delivered the anticipated feel-good triumph with lots of contributions from first-year players introducing themselves to the home crowd just as Dixon did.
Freshman point guard Jaylen Fisher, the highest-ranked recruit in TCU history, scored 13 points, doled out a game-high seven assists and had four steals in his first career start. Fellow freshman Desmond Bane, another new starter, made the first field goal of the Dixon era on a driving layup with 19:15 left in the opening half and finished with 12 points.
But it was another newcomer, Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson, who came off the bench to score a game-high 16 points and trigger a second-half surge that allowed the Horned Frogs (1-0) to send an announced crowd of 6,075 home with some favorable first impressions to go with the Dixon bobbleheads distributed to all ticket purchasers.
Robinson, a Mansfield Timberview graduate, made 7 of 11 shots from the field and finished as one of six Frogs to score in double digits against their visitors from Houston, whose record fell to 0-4, including a 77-70 loss to Arlington Baptist College.
For Dixon, a former TCU player who spent the past 13 seasons as the coach at Pittsburgh, it marked a night he will never forget in the Frogs’ refurbished arena that underwent a $72 million overhaul before last season.
“That was fun. It was weird, strange, different. At some times, you had to pinch yourself getting ready,” Dixon said, summing up his first coaching appearance in the same building where he was a member of two TCU teams that won Southwest Conference championships in the 1980s. “It’s home but the arena’s so different. There were times where it hit me. Walking in before the game, it really hit me. That, and walking by the football stadium. That’s the time that really hit me before the game.”
What hit him as the game unfolded was the quality of the Frogs’ play at point guard. Fisher, rated as the No. 34 recruit in the country by ESPN, did nothing to disappoint. After a slow start, he scored seven of TCU’s final eight points in the first half and continued expanding his presence in multiple statistical areas throughout the second half. He even mixed in the night’s most memorable block, a rejection of Josh Bearden’s baseline jumper with 6:08 remaining.
What did the heralded freshman think about his college debut, which included a stellar assists-to-turnover ratio of 7-1?
“I can’t complain. My team really looked out for me today, getting me open shots and just building my confidence up,” Fisher said. “There was no nervousness. I feel like I belong out there.”
Asked if fans could count on him filling up a stat sheet to the level he did Friday on a recurring basis, Fisher said: “Yes, sir. Every game.”
Dixon, for one, is counting on that. He’s also counting on some help at the position from Robinson, who ran the point at times Friday and stayed on the floor for extended stretches while Fisher was the primary facilitator.
“I think we really have good point guard play. And you don’t generally like to say that when you’re talking about a freshman and a sophomore that hasn’t played in a year,” Dixon said. “But we’ve certainly improved ourselves in the point guard area. Jaylen was terrific.”
As always, there were glitches. TCU played without three players, two who missed the game with injuries (guards Michael Williams and Kenrich Williams) and freshman Kouat Noi, a signee from Australia waiting for final approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Dixon said he is hopeful the injured players will return “shortly.” He said Noi’s status as a late signee, coupled with the unique school calendar in Australia, has left “a few things we’ve got to get done” before Noi can participate.
The level of competition was hardly of Big 12 caliber, but TCU rolled 12 players through the lineup, 10 of them playing at least 13 minutes. Expect the rotation to be more limited against tougher opponents but understand this team has way more depth, and more quality depth, than last season’s squad that finished 12-21.
“I think we’ll have a nice rotation when we get everyone out there,” Dixon said. “We have good balance. We’ll have different guys carrying us on different nights.”
Friday night, the spotlight fell on Dixon and lots of newcomers.
St. Thomas (0-4)—Brancato 5-9 2-4 13, Bearden 4-9 4-5 14, K.Robinson 1-3 0-0 3, Marquez 3-6 0-0 8, Makel 1-2 2-2 5, Chilo 2-2 0-0 4, Thormaehlen 2-3 0-0 5, Taulton 2-2 0-0 5, Shaw 2-11 0-0 4, Ellwanger 0-1 0-0 0, Flores 0-2 0-0 0, Alfred 1-2 0-0 2, L.Robinson 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 23-53 9-13 64.
TCU (1-0)—Miller 4-8 1-2 10, Shepherd 4-6 5-6 14, Trent 0-5 2-2 2, Bane 5-8 1-1 12, Fisher 6-14 1-2 13, Brodziansky 0-1 0-2 0, Sottile 0-0 0-0 0, Washburn 0-1 3-5 3, B.Parrish 4-7 2-3 12, J.Parrish 0-0 0-0 0, Dry 0-1 0-0 0, A.Robinson 7-11 0-0 16. Totals 30-62 15-23 82.
Halftime—TCU 45, St. Thomas 37. 3-Point Goals—St. Thomas 9-29 (Marquez 2-3, Bearden 2-4, Makel 1-1, Taulton 1-1, K.Robinson 1-2, Thormaehlen 1-2, Brancato 1-3, Ellwanger 0-1, Alfred 0-1, L.Robinson 0-1, Flores 0-2, Shaw 0-8), TCU 7-26 (B.Parrish 2-5, A.Robinson 2-6, Shepherd 1-1, Bane 1-2, Miller 1-4, Brodziansky 0-1, Dry 0-1, Fisher 0-2, Trent 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—St. Thomas 24 (Marquez 7), TCU 34 (Miller 7). Assists—St. Thomas 17 (Brancato, Marquez, Makel 4), TCU 15 (Fisher 7). Total Fouls—St. Thomas (TX) 17, TCU 16. A—6,075 (7,201).