An hour before game time Saturday night, the TCU student section was full.
For a Horned Frogs basketball game.
“Fort Dixon,” as Jamie Dixon’s boss called it, was ready to stand its ground.
How long has it been? How long since the basketball Frogs had a winning record in their conference? (16 years, actually, when Billy Tubbs was the head coach).
How long since student blue jeans actually sat in those seats? How long since TCU basketball mattered?
“The crowd was terrific,” said Dixon, the new coach who’s back in his old place. “I’m disappointed for our fans. I think they deserved it tonight.”
Cold shooting and a rugged Baylor defense eventually left Dixon’s Frogs worn and beaten Saturday, as the sixth-ranked Bears pulled away to win 62-53.
But the margin was misleading. The score was tied seven times during the night and the lead changed hands 16 times.
The final change came with just 4:16 to play, when Ishmail Wainwright’s three-point bucket for Baylor secured the lead for good.
After winning only two Big 12 games a year ago, TCU is now 14-5 overall and 3-4 in conference play under Dixon, who returned to his alma mater after coaching Pittsburgh to 11 NCAA tournament appearances.
How much better are the Horned Frogs? The hints may come only when they have a marquee upset or two to hang their hats on.
“We’ve only lost to good teams, ranked teams,” Dixon said, making it sound more like a lament than a boast. “Every game we’ve lost has been close.”
That marquee game should be coming. The Frogs, though they have four seniors, are barely recognizable from what they used to be.
“We have to believe we’re going to get it done, and we have to get it done,” Dixon said.
Baylor had to play like the No. 6 team in the country to finally subdue the Frogs. The Bears are bigger, beefier and bring a wealth of experience to the Big 12 chase.
Down the stretch, veterans Wainwright and Manu Lecomte produced the key plays that snatched the lead from TCU for good.
“They’re a very good team and very well-coached,” Dixon said. “They have a lot of seniors and redshirts. They’re just old and good, and that’s a good combination.”
It’s not the first time that an opposing coach has used that profile to describe Scott Drew’s Baylor team.
Drew, however, had praise of his own for Dixon and TCU.
“We knew that they had some senior veterans coming back,” Drew said. “And they’ve added some guys.
“Coach Dixon just does a good job of making it tough, especially on the defensive end.”
Fort Dixon, TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte called the arena where his new coach has turned things upside down.
As tipoff time neared Saturday, Del Conte took to Twitter to inform the line of students outside, “Will start letting more students once everyone has settled in ... house is packed and rockin’.”
It was. For basketball.
And how long has that been, when the extra seats weren’t filled by ticket-scavenging Kansas Jayhawks fans?
Cold shooting ruined the Horned Frogs night Saturday.
But as Dixon has shown, it won’t be cold inside Schollmaier Arena very long.