Horned Frogs fight past slow start to advance to second round of NIT

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Kendric Davis finished with 10 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting. Photo by Heesoo Yang

The Horned Frogs took the first step toward Madison Square Garden Wednesday, defeating Sam Houston State in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT)

The top-seeded Horned Frogs triumphed over the Bearkats 82-69, propelled by a 15-2 run at the end of the first half that they never looked back from.

“I’m very proud of our guys,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “There was a lot of emotion on Sunday, a lot of disappointment. How were they gonna handle it? I thought they were terrific.”

After being one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament, the Frogs began the game with the play of a team that wasn’t thrilled to be in the NIT. They made just two of their first 10 shots and had three turnovers in the game’s opening minutes.

Robinson set the season record for assists with 235. Photo by Heesoo Yang

“We were a little upset when we didn’t get in the tournament,” senior Alex Robinson said. “You could definitely tell that we didn’t come out with the energy we needed to and we picked it up.”

The Bearkats, who finished 16-2 in Southland Conference play, came out with something to prove. They made eight of their first 13 shots and led by as much as eight midway through the first half.

Following a 7-0 Bearkat run that had them up 27-19, the Horned Frogs woke up. The team went on a 15-2 and ended the first half leading by four, 34-30.

They would come out in the second half right where they left off, going on an 8-2 run to push their lead to 10. They finished the second half making over 70 percent of their shots and never allowed the Bearkats to get back within striking distance.

Nembhard’s two second half dunks epitomized the Horned Frogs dominance. Photo by Heesoo Yang

Six Horned Frogs would finish in double figures, led by JD Miller’s 15 points on 6-9 shooting. Miller played in his 137th game as a Horned Frog, becoming the school’s all-time leader in games played. He was previously tied for first with Brandon Parrish at 136 games.

Miller and center Kevin Samuel were a big reason why TCU outscored Sam Houston State 50-28 in the paint, a big factor in their 13-point victory.

“We had a size advantage,” Dixon said. “I thought in the second half, we talked about getting the ball inside, getting the ball inside, I don’t know that we did a great job in the first half, but I think we saw the success and in the second half we really did a good job on that.”

By the final buzzer, they looked like a team that wanted to prove the selection committee wrong.

Both Dixon and freshman Kendric Davis talked about how the team watched a tribute video to its 2017 NIT championship run before the game, which motivated them after the disappointment of not making the Big Dance.

“I hadn’t seen it in a while, it was emotional and I think our guys saw how important it was to our guys,” Dixon said. “They saw how important it was to JD and Alex and you could see their emotion on the film. I thought it was really good for us.”

Miller was one of two players on the team that was apart of the 2017 NIT championship squad. Photo by Heesoo Yang

With the first of five wins under their belt, the Horned Frogs will enter Sunday’s second round match-up against Nebraska looking to channel the motivation of missing the NCAA tournament into another win.

“We want to prove that we should’ve been in the tournament,” Robinson said. “So our goal is to win this whole thing.”

Robinson totaled 11 assists, giving him 241 total assists this season, the most ever in a season by a TCU player. It was the 10th time this season the senior point guard has recorded at least 10 assists. Robinson also added 13 points to go with his assists, giving him his ninth double-double of the season and the 12th of his career.

Tip off against Nebraska is set for 8:30 p.m.