TCU looked like a team that lost its two leading scorers from last season. And a team that had two significant pieces sidelined with injury.
But the 20th-ranked Frogs found a way to avoid an upset with a 66-61 victory over CSU Bakersfield in the season opener on Wednesday night at Schollmaier Arena.
“We kept it interesting,” Dixon said. “We’re a team that had three guys who had played college basketball playing tonight. We’re in a process and we’re going to keep getting better. But we got better from first half to second half. We defended and won with defense.”
TCU trailed 41-30 with 17:40 left in the game, but chipped away at the deficit and hung on in the final minutes.
The stretch run saw junior guard Desmond Bane score nine points in the final seven minutes, including two free throws to seal the game with 18.8 seconds left, Yuat Alok made a clutch jumper with less than two minutes left and Kendric Davis knock in a pair of free throws.
“My teammates kept trusting me,” said Bane, who had a team-high 14 points and 10 rebounds. “It was tough to get in rhythm [against CSU Bakersfield], but we grinded it out and got a good win.”
CSU Bakersfield stayed in it all game, though, by knocking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Jarkel Joiner led the way for the Roadrunners with 18 points, including three 3-pointers.
CSU Bakersfield finished 9-for-24 from 3-point range compared to TCU’s 3-for-16 night. The Frogs ended up shooting 46 percent from the field (23-for-50) after being sub-40 percent much of the game.
It marked the 12th consecutive home-opening victory for TCU. The Frogs also improved to 15-0 in November under Dixon.
But it wasn’t easy Wednesday.
The Frogs were without two of their top returning scorers.
Point guard Jaylen Fisher is being eased back into game action following a meniscus injury last January that ended his sophomore season, and arthroscopic surgery on the same knee (right) in September.
Fisher averaged 12.3 points a game when healthy last season.
Forward Kouat Noi was sidelined with a knee injury, as well. Noi averaged 10.2 points a game last season.
Additionally, TCU is trying to fill the void left by its two leading scorers from last season. Vladimir Brodziansky averaged a team-best 15 points a season ago, and Kenrich Williams averaged 13.2 points. As a team, TCU scored 82.1 points a game last season.
The Frogs were well short of that mark in this year’s opener, but a young, inexperienced team is expected to grow.
“We’re learning in many ways,” Dixon said. “We’re dealing with some things [injury-wise], we’ve got three guys with experience, we’ve got the ranking people are talking about, so everybody is going to look that we weren’t that good. Maybe today we weren’t, but we are going to be very good.”
TCU got off to a slow start, trailing 29-18 at one point in the first half. And, anytime the Frogs appeared to be on the verge of a run, the Roadrunners knocked down another shot.
TCU cut the deficit to 34-28 with 1:14 left in the first half, and had a chance to make it a one-possession game in the final seconds. But Alok had a bad turnover and CSU Bakersfield’s Damiyne Durham drained a 3-pointer to make it a 37-28 lead at half.
TCU shot just 37 percent from the field (10-for-27) and 22 percent from 3-point range (2-for-9) in the opening half.
CSU Bakersfield, meanwhile, shot 52 percent from the field (13-for-25) and 46 percent from 3-point range (5-for-11).
“That’s a good team,” Dixon said of Bakersfield. “That’s an old team. That’s a tough team. That’s a well-caoched team, Bakersfield, and that’s a team you don’t want to play early, first game of the year with three returning college basketball players, but we did it.
“We got a win and we’re going to get better for it.”
TCU’s next game is another home contest against Oral Roberts at 4 p.m. Sunday.