Despite weak first half, TCU rolls past D-III Southwestern in basketball opener

Facing a Division III school, most expected TCU’s Thursday night season opener to become a glorified scrimmage. But Southwestern University gave TCU all it could, at least in the first half.

The Frogs eventually pulled away with a strong second half in an 83-62 victory over the Pirates at Schollmaier Arena. But it wasn’t pretty early on.

As coach Jamie Dixon said afterward, “We could’ve handled things better, but now it’s how we handle the opportunity with a chance to learn from it. I think we will.”

TCU led much of the game, taking a permanent lead on a 3-pointer by Desmond Bane with 18:45 left in the first half, but Southwestern stayed within striking distance.

Pirates guard Brandon Alexander opened on fire, scoring 20 points in the first half. The Inez native knocked down four 3-pointers in that stretch, and TCU had a slim 43-38 lead going into halftime.

Outside of Kevin Samuel, who had 15 first-half points, and Bane, who had 11 points, the Frogs left plenty to be desired in the first half. They shot only 29.4% from 3-point range compared to Southwestern’s 50%.

TCU came to life in the second half, though, going on an early 15-0 run to take control of the game.

The highlight of that run came with an alley-oop from RJ Nembhard to Bane, who got fouled in the process and converted for an old-fashioned three-point play.

“I need to see that clip,” Bane said, smiling. “I haven’t got a chance to see it. It was a good pass by RJ for sure, an unselfish play, he could’ve easily laid it up but threw it up to me. I appreciate.”

Bane ended up scoring eight points in that run and finished with a team-leading 26 points. Samuel had 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Nembhard added 14 points and George Mason transfer Jaire Grayer had 13.

TCU out-scored Southwestern 40-24 in the second half.

“I think we really just settled in,” Bane said. “First game for a lot of these guys, for some other guys first game with this team under the lights. I think it was just a part of settling in and getting back to playing the way we’ve practiced.”

Southwestern won the rebounding battle on the night, 35-33. And Alexander finished with a game-high 28 points.

“He was good,” Dixon said of Alexander. “We watched film on him, so we knew he could score. Defensively, we weren’t very good, but give him credit. We gave him a couple open ones early, so now he’s got confidence and then he made a couple tough ones.”

At the end of the day, Thursday marked an easier victory than the last time Southwestern visited Fort Worth. The Frogs needed overtime for an 82-81 victory on Nov. 29, 1983.

A notable TCU player in that game? Then-freshman guard Dixon, who scored his first collegiate points.

Dixon was 1 of 1 from the field for two points to go with two rebounds.

Told he scored his first points against Southwestern earlier this week, Dixon joked: “Is that right? And last probably. I do remember that. I was a freshman. So, yes, this is a rivalry.”

Going off the first half, that quip seemed to ring true more often than not. But TCU now owns a 4-2 record in the all-time series against the small liberal arts college located in Georgetown.

The victory extended TCU’s streak of consecutive wins in home openers to 12. The Frogs (1-0) face Louisiana on Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Schollmaier Arena.

“This team is all about growing,” Dixon said. “I’m still real confident in where these guys are going to get to. They’re going to take advantage of these opportunities and get better for it. I’m excited.

“I thought Desmond was terrific. He came in the second half and drove the ball more, that’s what we addressed in halftime. I think he set the tone in a lot of ways.”

LeDee’s status?

TCU is still awaiting word from the NCAA on forward Jaedon LeDee’s immediate eligibility request, sources said. A decision is expected soon.

LeDee, an Ohio State transfer, would provide depth and become a significant post presence if eligible. He saw action in 26 games with the Buckeyes last season, averaging 3.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 6.6 minutes per game.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram