When TCU coach Jamie Dixon entered his post-game interview after Monday’s 82-73 win against No. 7 West Virginia, Horned Frogs fans in the adjoining club lounge cheered and waved.
The smile on his face screamed relief and gratification.
“Well, I’m glad they’re happy,” Dixon said after the Horned Frogs beat the Mountaineers for the first time in 12 meetings. “The last two years, really, [we’ve had] home games, big crowds, with the atmosphere and we didn’t get it done. We had leads, we had opportunities, and it just didn’t happen, for whatever reason.”
Monday, of course, it did, and the promising rise of TCU basketball is back on. The Frogs had fallen out of the Associated Press Top 25 earlier in the day, but the win — a convincing win — against a team that was once ranked No. 2 in the nation, is more like what Dixon and his team expected when the season began.
Although TCU (15-5, 3-5) is still near the bottom of the Big 12 standings, the log jam in the middle of the conference means a run at a regular-season title remains on the table. Only No. 5 Kansas (16-3, 6-1) has separated itself from the pack. The Frogs lost by four to the Jayhawks at home on Jan. 6. The rematch is Feb. 6 in Lawrence, Kan. TCU plays at Vanderbilt on Saturday as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
“For me, emotionally, I really wanted this game,” said TCU guard Alex Robinson, who had a game-high 17 points and nine assists. “I’m sure it’s the same with the rest of the team. We just wanted to get a win. We didn’t want to start off 2-6 in conference.”
That’s because they don’t feel like they’ve played their basketball early in Big 12 action and allowed multiple games slip away.
“We’ve lost so many close games, so many opportunities,” said Dixon, who saw a change with his team during Sunday’s practice. “For whatever reason, things started coming together [Sunday]. I think we were really, really disappointed with our performance against Kansas State. We had so many opportunities [to win that game].”
Perhaps a fifth close loss in league play left the Frogs a little saltier, with an edge they needed. Especially against the physically demanding style of the Mountaineers. It required an equally physical style from the Frogs and they delivered.
“[Coach Dixon] has been drilling that to us,” said Kendrich Williams, who had nine points and 14 rebounds. Kouat Noi, who had 13 points before being ejected for a flagrant foul with 10:11 left in the game, added some needed spunk for the Frogs. “Yeah, he was big for us. He came in and hit some big shots early,” Williams said. “I think the little altercation got the crowd into it more and probably got us fired up in a way.”
“We knew this was a big game,” said Robinson, who credited the sold-out Schollmaier Arena crowd for an emotional boost on Monday. “When I came here [on a visit] that’s one thing that sold me was the family environment. So being able to connect with them and feel their energy. That really helped us with this win. They got really, really loud at times and I felt like that helped us with runs and defensive stops.”