In a flurry of hustle and athleticism, TCU forward Emanuel Miller grabbed a rebound, threw an outlet pass to a teammate, ran the length of the floor and threw down a vicious putback dunk.
The crowd hit their feet, the Frogs’ bench went crazy and forward Eddie Lampkin back-pedaled down the court doing the “raise the roof” motion with his arms.
Miller, who transferred to TCU from Texas A&M in April, had just given the Frogs an 18-point lead late in their season-opening matchup against McNeese State on Thursday night.
After TCU went 641 days without playing in front of a non-restricted crowd, the play seemed to announce that basketball, indeed, was back in Fort Worth.
“I thought we had a lot of energy in the gym,” head coach Jamie Dixon said to the media postgame. “I guess getting some people in there after being shut out with crowds and stuff was nice. I thought our guys played with great energy.”
TCU would go on to win 77-61, moving to a perfect 6-0 in season openers under Dixon with a roster almost unrecognizable from the team that started the season a year ago.
As expected, returning superstar Mike Miles showed out offensively in the game, leading all players with 22 points and making 11 of his 12 free throw attempts.
“Yeah, I saw that my shot wasn’t falling really. I tried to get to the line, draw fouls,” Miles said. “I didn’t know I shot 12 free throws. I didn’t know I shot that many. It worked. [I] got points. We won. That’s all that matters.”
After averaging just under 18 free throw attempts per game last season, TCU got to the line at will against McNeese State, making 24 of 34 attempts.
Including Miller, eight players had decided to ride the transfer portal to Fort Worth over the offseason, with all but one of them seeing the court against the Cowboys.
Miller had led the new faces with 12 points. Despite going just 4-for-12 from the field, the junior had tallied a game-high 13 points to go with two steals and a block, displaying the versatility he brings to the Frogs.
“Yeah, I just play the game like it’s my last,” Miller said. “I’m very blessed to be put in this position, very blessed to be playing with these two and when Eddie [Lampkin] cheers me on, that gets me going and I’m going to do the same thing for him.”
Led by Miller’s effort, TCU out-rebounded McNeese 57-34 in the game, just a year after finishing eighth in the Big 12 with just 34.9 rebounds per game as a team.
The 57 rebounds by the Frogs were their most in a game since 2007.
Despite the outcome, the game had been far from perfect for TCU, especially in the first half. McNeese looked inspired after falling 86-62 to SMU on Tuesday and hit the Frogs in the mouth early.
At the midway point of the first half, TCU was already approaching double-digit turnovers, giving way to a 10-2 run by the Cowboys that put the Frogs down 17-12.
TCU would then pop off on a 10-0 run over their own, spurred by five points from Miles alone, taking the lead for the rest of the first half and eventually the rest of the game.
Memphis-transfer Damion Baugh had also contributed to the Frogs’ lead-taking run with a corner three, after which he turned around and shared some words with a chirpy Cowboys bench.
Before leaving with an ankle injury early in the second half, Baugh had contributed six points, three assists and two steals for the Frogs. TCU expects him to be a major contributor this year as an on-ball defender and distributer.
“He’s [Baugh] been a great defender for us on the weak side, the help side, away from the ball,” Dixon said. “We started him, so he’s actually earned the playing time. He’s a guy that moves the ball.”
After the Frogs led by 11 at halftime, the closest the Cowboys would get again was eight, with TCU leading by as much as 21 with 3:30 remaining.
Throughout the second half, TCU continued to control the pace of the game while working on different player rotations with their new pieces.
“We see there isn’t much separation with these guys, but, you know, when the lights came on, you saw some different things, and that’s what we have to see, and work with, and grow with,” Dixon said. “This is our starting point, and in no way did I think we’d be great tonight. I thought we’d be better, but we weren’t, so we’ll get to work on it.”
Now 1-0, TCU will look to keep rolling at home on Monday against Southern Miss. Tip-off against the Golden Eagles is scheduled for 7 p.m.