It was a battle of childhood friends and rising stars on Wednesday night in Schollmaier Arena, as TCU freshman guard Mike Miles and Oklahoma State University’s Cade Cunningham showed out in a Big-12 matchup that went down to the final seconds.
The two had combined for 37 points as time ticked down with the game tied at 78. It felt like the game-clinching score was destined to come from one of the freshman, or even guard R.J. Nembhard, who hit a game-winner in Stillwater just two months ago.
But it didn’t. Instead, the most unlikely of players stood up to the task for TCU.
With 12 seconds left, Cunningham missed a layup attempt, and the Frogs flung the ball up the floor, finding forward Jaedon LeDee for a layup plus a foul to give TCU the lead with four seconds left.
“We trust each other a lot,” said Nembhard. “We stick together through the adversity on and off the floor. A lot of teams can fold and can pull apart, but we’ve stayed together.”
Known for his defense and hustle, LeDee entered the game averaging just 14.5 minutes and 5.2 points per game. None of that mattered on Tuesday, though, as his heads up play earned TCU a much-needed 81-78 win.
“One of the things we want out of him is running the floor and beating their big guys down,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “When they missed the shot, they almost attacked the ball handler in the back court, and I was looking for them to throw it ahead. I could see that they had nobody back.”
LeDee finished with eight points on the day, while Nembhard led the game with 20 points and seven assists.
The win breaks a five-game losing streak for TCU and earns them a season sweep of Oklahoma State. The Frogs hadn’t won since defeating Kansas State 67-60 at home on Jan. 2.
Playing in their first home game since Jan. 9th, TCU looked amped and ready to go from the jump. A strong layup, followed by a foul by center Kevin Samuel and a pair of three-pointers by the Frogs, gave them a 9-3 lead early and sent Schollmaier Arena into an uproar.
Despite still being restricted to 25% capacity, the crowd made their presence felt in a major way, giving TCU a home court advantage they had not had since their win over No. 2 Baylor last spring.
“It was amazing,” Nembhard said. “It felt like it was a sell-out crowd. Obviously, it’s not max capacity. To have that many fans in the arena, it’s been a long time.”
Cunningham, the Big 12’s leading scorer, picked up two quick fouls before even recording a point and was forced to go to the bench early in the first half.
In part thanks to a 3-for-3 start from the charity stripe for Samuel, the Frogs led by as much as 18-10 midway through the half. The Pokes responded with an 11-0 run, taking control just minutes later.
A personal 4-0 run by Miles gave the lead back to TCU at the four minute mark, and the teams went back-and-forth throughout the first 20 minutes.
Cunningham would eventually return, but he failed to score before the end of the half and TCU held OSU to zero made field goals through the final 3:12.
Thanks to a game-high 11 points from Miles, the Frogs held a 34-34 tie with the Pokes at the halftime break.
Momentum seemed to shift TCU’s way in the opening moments of the second half. The Frogs were able to get stops on the defensive end and easy looks on the offensive end, taking a double-digit lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
Projected by most as the top prospect for the 2021 NBA draft, Cunningham was not going to let TCU run away with it. The Arlington native scored 15 points over the next 11 minutes of play, motioning to the crowd that he had silenced the “overrated” chants they gave him earlier in the game.
“You hate to do that and then lose, so at least we won,” Dixon said of the chants. “I don’t condone it.”
Twenty combined second half points from Samuel and guard R.J. Nembhard kept the Frogs in the game amidst Cunningham’s brilliance, and LeDee’s tough layup sealed the win.
Samuel finished with 14 points, six boards, and two blocks. USC-transfer Chuck O’Bannon added 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting and seven rebounds.
With the win, TCU now improves to 10-7 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play. The Frogs will look to gain momentum and make a run at the NCAA tournament.
“I think we got out of the Kansas game with some confidence,” Dixon said. “At some point you say you got to get a win.”
Life won’t get easier for TCU anytime soon, though. Up next, they’ll head to Waco to take on No. 2 Baylor at the Ferrell Center. Tip-off with the Bears is set for Saturday, Feb. 6 at 3 p.m.