TCU survives late scare from Baylor to win Big 12 opener

A lengthy layoff between games didn’t matter. Neither did Jaylen Fisher being sidelined or freshman Kaden Archie hitting the transfer block.

TCU opened Big 12 play with a win, almost letting a 19-point lead slip away but eventually held off a late charge for an 85-81 victory over Baylor on Saturday afternoon at Schollmaier Arena. The Frogs (12-1) have won nine straight and didn’t show signs of rust despite their last game being Dec. 25 in Hawaii.

“It was certainly a great win and it’s good to start 1-0 in conference play,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Desmond Bane led TCU with 22 points, his fourth 20-point game this season. Alex Robinson finished with 18 points and 10 assists, and JD Miller had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Baylor’s Tristan Clark, the conference’s reigning player of the week, scored a team-high 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field. Matthew Mayer added 17 points for the Bears.

Baylor scored the game’s first points, but TCU’s RJ Nembhard knocked down a 3-pointer to take a 3-2 lead with 17:43 left. The Frogs didn’t trail the rest of the way, although the Bears made it interesting down the stretch. Baylor went on a 9-0 run and pulled to within 80-78 with 31.4 seconds left.

Nembhard, who missed two free throws eaerlier in the game, knocked down a pair of free throws to make it an 82-78 lead with 25 seconds left.

“You have to have a short-term memory,” Nembhard said. “I know I missed two earlier and I just didn’t think about that. I just wanted to do anything for the team to get the win.”

Baylor answered. Bears point guard Makai Mason made a layup and drew a foul on Robinson, converting the three-point play to make it 82-81 with 18 seconds left.

Robinson redeemed himself by making both of his free throw attempts with 16 seconds left. Trailing 84-81, the Bears went for the tie but Mason’s 3-point attempt clanked off the rim with 8 seconds left.

TCU sealed the game as Miller made one of two free throws with five seconds left. But TCU made just 8 of 20 free throws in the second half after going 11 of 14 in the first half.

“They were more physical than us in the second half clearly,” Dixon said. “When we got to the line we didn’t knock them down. The first half was good, we only had 10 turnovers offensively we were very good. I think our depth and foul trouble wore us down in the second half and that’s something we’ve got to acknowledge.”

The Frogs had a 40-28 lead at half.

The signature moment in the opening half came on a breakaway dunk by Bane with 5:13 left. Baylor’s Mason turned it over, and Bane went the distance with a thunderous slam to put TCU up 28-20.

The Bears couldn’t get out of their own way, either. Mason fouled TCU guard Kendric Davis on a half-court heave at the end of the half, and Davis made two of three free throws to give TCU a 40-28 lead at half.

TCU shot 48.1 percent from the field in the opening half, and had a 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio (10 assists, 5 turnovers). Baylor, meanwhile, shot 40.7 percent from the field and had more turnovers (7) than assists (6).

TCU actually improved to 65 percent from the field in the second half but, as stated, struggled from the free throw line. Baylor improved with 13 assists to just five turnovers in the second half, but never gained the lead.

Surviving the late scare is something that TCU can build on. At least they hope.

“I think it’s a positive sign,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of veteran guys. I think my first year here that might’ve been a game we probably would’ve lost. We’ve taken strides and I think we’re prepared for the Big 12.”

The Frogs were without one of their best players, Fisher, the junior point guard who missed his fourth game of the season. Fisher is usually a game-time decision as the team monitors his right knee – an injury to his right knee cut his sophomore season short last year.

Fisher recently had the knee drained. He is averaging 12.1 points and is leading the Big 12 in 3-pointers made per game.

TCU also played its first game without Archie. The freshman forward has decided to transfer from the program, the Star-Telegram confirmed before the game.

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