Make no mistake: TCU basketball ‘needs’ Lat Mayen to emerge in Big 12 play

TCU’s Desmond Bane: Our defense creates offense

TCU had its best offensive game against West Virginia on Tuesday. Junior guard Desmond Bane credited the Frogs' defense for opening up the offense.
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TCU had its best offensive game against West Virginia on Tuesday. Junior guard Desmond Bane credited the Frogs' defense for opening up the offense.

TCU basketball had a welcomed sight against West Virginia on Tuesday.

Freshman forward Lat Mayen playing extended minutes for the first time in his career. And making the most of them.

“He was huge for us,” senior point guard Alex Robinson said after TCU’s most lopsided Big 12 win since joining the conference in 2012.

Mayen posted career-highs in minutes (26), points (12), rebounds (6) and steals (2). Heck, he even had the most fouls of his young career with two.

It’s not hard to set career highs, of course, when the most minutes he’d been on the floor had been 11 against Lipscomb. So the West Virginia game was a positive sign and something the Frogs will need from Mayen the rest of the way in Big 12 play.

Mayen and TCU will face Kansas State on Saturday afternoon at Bramlage Coliseum. Tip off is set for 3 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.

“Yeah, we need him,” coach Jamie Dixon said after Tuesday’s game. “He could be a really great defender, he made three shots. I think his 100 percent means he’s not playing in pain, but I think you’ll see him grow even more as he goes through freshman year like anyone else in our program.”

Mayen informed Dixon that his knee was “finally 100 percent” last week.

This is a guy who underwent surgery on a torn meniscus as a true freshman last year, which led to a redshirt season, and had another operation on the same knee.

Mayen had been working his way back into game shape going into this season, playing six minutes in the season opener against CSU-Bakersfield, but has been battling a bone bruise in the left knee since the summer.

He’s fully recovered, though. At the perfect time too. TCU’s post depth has been depleted with injuries/ transfers by Angus McWilliam, Yuat Alok and Kaden Archie.

Mayen is a nice piece off the bench and allows TCU to use senior JD Miller at the 5-position when Kevin Samuel is on the bench. Mayen had a nice block down low against West Virginia, and also showed he can be an outside threat offensively by going 3-for-6 from 3-point range.

“It feels like the guy we saw six to eight months ago,” Dixon said. “It was great to see him battle and you guys got to see it [against West Virginia]. I’m just excited and happy for him.

“The guys all knew what kind of player Lat was, so we felt it was coming and we could see it. It took a step back at one point [with the bone bruise], but it’s hard for me to watch a kid get out there and try to play and see him play with discomfort and pain. We’ve had a lot of that, more than I’ve had in my entire career. It seems like this year, we’ve had more than ever.

“I think our guys always believed in him and that once he wasn’t running in pain, we could have a great player and teammate.”

Mayen, who is a cousin of TCU sophomore forward Kouat Noi, joined TCU as the No. 1-rated player in the 2017 Australian class. He has the ability to make an impact.

Tuesday simply served as a step in the right direction to fulfill that potential.

“We’re blessed to have him back with all the injuries he’s had,” Robinson said. “He’s going to be a big part of our offense and defense.”

Nembhard to return

Dixon expects redshirt freshman guard RJ Nembhard to return for the K-State game. Nembhard missed the West Virginia game with sickness.

Nembhard had started the first three games with junior guard Jaylen Fisher sidelined with a knee injury. With Nembhard and Fisher out for the WVU game, Noi got his first start of the season.

Since then, Fisher has left the program. Fairly or not, more of a spotlight will be on Nembhard the rest of the way. He played well in Fisher’s place against Baylor and Kansas, but struggled in the Oklahoma game.

Nembhard, a Keller product, went just 1-for-8 from the field, including 0-for-3 from 3-point range, against the Sooners.

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