TCU Horned Frogs guard Alex Robinson (25) goes to the basket on Auburn Tigers center Austin Wiley (50) and forward Horace Spencer (0) and guard Mustapha Heron (5) during the first half at Ed and Rae Schollmaier Arena. (Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports)
print

The Frogs kept their game against Auburn close for the first 25 minutes, but couldn’t close in the second half, falling 88-80.

The loss to the Tigers was the fourth straight and dropped the Frogs’ record to 14-7 overall.

With just under 15 minutes left in the game, Auburn sprinted ahead on 25-2 run that TCU failed to stop until there was about 7:30 left to play.

“We’re on a slide here, and we have to go figure it out,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “They outplayed us, simply no other way to put it.”

The Horned Frogs were outscored in the paint 56-48 and allowed the Tigers to score 20 second chance points.

“I was surprised we were that bad defensively,” Dixon said. “We gave them layups, couldn’t guard the dribble, and we couldn’t finish up possessions on rebounds.”

The central reason for TCU’s problems in the paint was Auburn’s first-year center Austin Wiley. He scored 25 points on 11-13 shooting.

“Wiley had great numbers, but I feel like a lot of that came from his guards getting penetration out front,” Dixon said. “To his credit, he did his job, and his size stands out.”

Things were made worse when TCU’s starting forward and the Big 12 leading rebounder Kenrich Williams fouled out early in the second half.

“He brings a lot of toughness to our team, because you don’t have the nickname Kenny Hustle for nothing,” TCU guard Alex Robinson Jr. said. “He brings a lot of leadership to our team on the court, and I feel like we missed him today.”

The Horned Frogs’ biggest problem over the course of their losing streak had been shooting, but on Saturday TCU shot 51 percent from the field. However, their free throw shooting hampered TCU’s scoring efforts, as they shot 9-20 from the line.

“The 45 percent on free throws weighed on us,” Dixon said. “I thought we should’ve been up more in the first half , but that let us down.”

The shooting problems appear to be hindering other areas of the Frogs’ game.

“We have to address the shooting issue that’s bothering us way more than it should,” Dixon said. “You could feel the shoulders drop and the head going down after each miss.”

Even with their offensive struggles, the Horned Frogs had a few bright spots in what was otherwise a rude awakening.

Robinson Jr. led TCU in scoring for the sixth time this season with 20 points, and it was his second best game of the season, trailing only his career-high 24 in a Nov. 26 win over Washington. He added seven rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots and a steal.

In his return to the starting lineup Saturday, JD Miller was two points shy of a career high, as he totaled 17 points, which also equaled a season high.  Miller’s six assists, tying Robinson for the team lead, doubled his previous career high of three established last year at Texas Tech.

“I thought Alex did some good things, but he played too many minutes,” Dixon said. “We’re asking too much out of him, and it was good to get JD going.”

But, losing at Schollmaier Arena poked a hole in TCU’s March Madness resume.

“We’re still in position to make it at this point, but we have to change how we’re playing right now,” Dixon said. “I think we’re a little beat up right now, but it’s about how we’re going to respond.”

The players want nothing more than to send their four seniors off the right way in spring.

“We want to make it for our seniors who haven’t yet had the opportunity,” Robinson Jr. said. “Coach Dixon’s message was to stay together.”

The Horned Frogs will have an even higher sense of urgency for the next game on Wednesday, a road contest with Kansas State. “I don’t want to say panic, but we need to re-group and change how we’re playing,” Dixon said. “We have to get back to playing defense.”

TCU’s next game is Feb. 1 in Manhattan, Kansas against the Kansas State Wildcats. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.