TCU

‘Safe bet’ TCU is in NCAA Tournament. Frogs survive late scare by Oklahoma State

TCU’s Kevin Samuel (21) competes for a rebound against Oklahoma State’s Cameron McGriff, right, and Yor Anei during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 men’s tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
TCU’s Kevin Samuel (21) competes for a rebound against Oklahoma State’s Cameron McGriff, right, and Yor Anei during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big 12 men’s tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) AP

TCU played like a team worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid for most of Wednesday night.

The Frogs came out red-hot offensively with their best first half in a couple months, and had a 21-point lead early in the second half. But Oklahoma State had a late charge and took the lead with 26.1 seconds left.

TCU, though, answered thanks to junior guard Desmond Bane.

Bane saved the day -- and season -- by knocking down a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left and the Frogs escaped with a 73-70 victory in the Big 12 tournament opener at the Sprint Center.

“On my last play, I got downhill and I kicked it down to [Alex Robinson] and he kicked it back to me,” Bane said, “And I was open and just shot it.”

It might’ve shot TCU into the Big Dance.

TCU (20-12) finds itself on the “bubble” for a second straight NCAA bid, but has made a case this past week. TCU had a 69-56 victory over Texas in Austin on Saturday, and now have this too-close-for-comfort win over Oklahoma State (12-20) in the Big 12 tournament.

TCU is at the 20-win mark and most felt winning Wednesday would secure a berth. TCU coach Jamie Dixon believes it’s a “safe bet” that the Frogs are dancing again.

“Twenty wins in the Big 12, toughest conference in the country and we played a tough non-conference, so I would think so,” Dixon said. “But you never know what plays out in the other things ... but we’ve put ourselves in a good spot.”

It’s not a guarantee and TCU will look to add a more impressive win to its resume when it faces top-seeded Kansas State at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

For now, TCU is just happy to be still be alive.

TCU had a 65-52 lead with 8:06 left, but Oklahoma State went on a 16-3 run, tying the game on a layup by Yor Anei with 53 seconds left.

That run extended to 18-3 when Lindy Waters made a couple of free throws for a 70-68 lead with 26.1 seconds to go.

But Bane delivered when it mattered most, nailing a 3-pointer from the corner with 16 seconds left. That ended what had become a 6 minute, 47 second scoring drought for TCU in which it went 0-for-5.

“We have big trust in Desmond,” freshman center Kevin Samuel said. “He’s a great shooter, but when we got the ball, I knew it was going in. It was said and, so he did it.”

Bane is used to heroics in the Big 12 tournament. He made three free throws with two seconds left in TCU’s 85-82 upset win over top-seeded Kansas in the 2017 tournament, and banked in a 3-pointer against K-State last season to send it to overtime.

Dixon said he likes Bane or Kouat Noi taking the shots in critical situations for TCU.

But Oklahoma State had a chance to win it with the final possession. Waters missed a jumper with five seconds left, and Robinson sealed the game by getting the rebound and making a pair of free throws.

Noi finished with a game-high 20 points. It’s the fifth time this season Noi has reached the 20-point mark, and the Frogs are 4-1 in those games.

Noi entered having scored just four points combined in the previous two games against K-State and Texas.

“I give credit to my teammates for helping me when I was open,” Noi said. “That’s how it happened.”

Oklahoma State won the previous meeting against TCU, 68-61, in Stillwater, but Noi didn’t play in that game after rolling his ankle in practice.

He proved to be a difference maker as TCU got off to its best start in two months.

Noi knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to start the game and, before you knew it, TCU had taken a 27-11 lead less than eight minutes into the game.

TCU still had a 16-point lead, 45-29, by half. It was the most first-half points the Frogs scored since dropping 48 against West Virginia on Jan. 15 in Fort Worth.

Noi paced the way with 14 points, going 5-for-7 from the field in the first half. Samuel continued his strong play down low with 12 points and five rebounds.

As a team, TCU won the rebounding 22-10 in the first half, shot 58 percent from the field (18-for-31) and 50 percent from 3-point range (6-for-12).

The second half was a different story, of course. But TCU survived and advanced, which is all that matters this time of year.

“I was not at all surprised. I figured there was no way we could sustain what we were doing in the first half,” Dixon said. “Nobody can. You get a 20-point lead and they’re going to make a run. ... We’re not perfect.”

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