Season in review: TCU men’s basketball

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    It was a season that many would like to forget: a season filled with blowout losses, injuries and zero wins in conference play.

    Ultimately though, the 2013-14 TCU men’s basketball season ended as it began: with a loss to a rival on a neutral court.

    TCU opened its season on Nov. 8 against the No. 25 SMU Mustangs (23-8, 12-6 AAC) with a dud. Despite jumping out to a 36-30 lead early in the second half, the Frogs couldn’t contain the Mustangs and fell 69-60.

    By this point, TCU knew they’d be without junior forward Devonta Abron, freshman center Aaron Durley, senior guard Trey Zeigler and sophomore forward Chris Washburn for the season.

    Abron and Durley suffered season-ending injuries prior to the season opener while Zeigler and Washburn were ruled ineligible due to transfer rules.

    The 0-1 Frogs followed the opener up with an 82-79 loss to Longwood in the home opener. The Lancers finished the regular season with a paltry 8-24 record and their upset over TCU was one of only three road wins all year.

    From there, things seemingly got better for the Fort Worth Frogs.

    The purple and white won nine of their next 10, with wins over Washington State (10-20, 3-15 Pac-12) and Mississippi State (13-18, 3-15 SEC) offering a glimpse of hope heading into conference play.

    It didn’t take long for TCU to realize its lack of depth was no match for the ultra-competitive Big 12.

    After almost eking out a win against West Virginia, the wheels suddenly came off for the Frogs. TCU lost each of their next six by double digits.

    Losing the battle of the boards became routine for the undersized Frogs and teams seemingly scored at will from behind the three-point line.

    Following TCU’s fourth consecutive Big 12 loss, Johnson confirmed the team had lost another player for the season: sophomore guard Charles Hill Jr. was done for the year due to academic issues.

    The Fort Worth native averaged 5.1 points per game in the 14 contests he played in this season.

    Despite almost beating Texas Tech and Texas in consecutive games, the losing streak had reached nine by Feb. 4 and people started to seriously wonder if TCU would win another game this season.

    The Frogs’ next three games solidified their place at the bottom of the Big 12.

    TCU allowed Iowa State’s Melvim Ejim to score a career-high 48 points as the Cyclones routed the Frogs 84-69. To put the game into perspective, Ejim hit 20-of-24 from the field while TCU hit 21-56 as a team.

    Ejim later won AP Big 12 Player of the Year honor. His 48-point outburst against TCU also set a Big 12 single-game scoring record.

    The Frogs followed up that loss in Ames, Iowa, by allowing Baylor to hit 16 three-pointers in a 91-58 home blowout.

    And despite all the ineffectiveness, all the injuries and all the reasons to give up, TCU never quit.

    Junior guard Kyan Anderson averaged 21.4 points per game and shot 50.9 percent from the field in the month of February. While the team couldn’t find a way to win, Anderson refused to go down swinging.

    He’d later be reward for his efforts too, garnering All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors in early March.

    The team’s work ethic showed up big on the free throw line as well. By season’s end, TCU had the Big 12’s second-best free throw percentage (73.5 percent), which is a marked improvement from ranking worst in the Big 12 last season (60.1 percent).

    The team may have continued to lose but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

    The Frogs led then-No. 7 Kansas 25-19 midway through the first half on Feb. 15, but ultimately didn’t have the horses to compete with the Big 12 champions, losing 95-65.

    And as the losses kept piling up, it seemed all but certain this team was destined to go winless in conference play.

    A week after the loss to the Jayhawks, TCU’s bad luck reached an all-time high as Johnson announced junior forward Amric Fields was done for the year with a recurring knee injury.

    “I think we’re gonna move forward without him,” Johnson said.

    Fields, who won Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2012, was the team’s second-leading scorer this season, averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

    By TCU’s season finale against Oklahoma, the Frogs had six players sitting on the bench in street clothes. And while the team fought once again, they fell 0-18 in conference play after the Sooners hit 14 three-pointers en route to a 97-67 blowout.

    Heading into Wednesday night’s matchup with the Bears, Johnson displayed candid poise about his team’s bad luck.

    “Think about it,” Johnson said. “My back-up post, my first post guy off the bench, is a 6’2” walk-on Thomas Montigel. Hello. And Jarvis Ray, who’s a senior, should be playing the two or the three has been playing the four.”

    Johnson went on to praise Ray and Montigel’s for fighting despite playing out of position.

    “And here’s what’s impressive: neither one of ‘em, all year long, start of the year, end of the year, middle of the year, have ever complained or said nothing about anything,” Johnson said. “That’s the kind of kids they are.”

    Despite the scoreboard saying otherwise, Johnson knew what kind of team he had.

    “For these kids to be in the situation they’ve been in this year,” Johnson said. “Yeah, we’re 0 for whatever, but they’re not losers.”

    And a day after Johnson praised his team for fighting through the season’s adversity, the Frogs did what they’d been doing all year.

    They fought. And they lost.

    In the first round of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, Miss., 10th-seeded TCU fell to 7th-seeded Baylor 76-68 Wednesday night. Their unlucky season was finally over after 19 consecutive losses.

    But Johnson was ultimately proud of his team’s effort. TCU, once again, showed resiliency, fighting back from a 17-point deficit to make it a six-point game in the final minutes.

    “You know what, in athletics, one thing that is real easy to do is quit when you’re undermatched ‑‑ overmatched, excuse me, and you have a lot of adversity during the course of a season,” Johnson said. “And I’m a firm believer that adversity reveals your character as opposed to build it.”

    When asked after the loss about how he hopes this team is remembered, Johnson was frank.

    “I think you said it, a bunch of guys that never stopped fighting, never stopped playing, never stopped trying to get better and really supported each other,” Johnson said.

    The team certainly didn’t perform up to expectations but Johnson seems to believe that the future is high for TCU basketball.

    “One of the things that’s always been interesting for me is sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to really figure out what you need to do to get to the elite level, and it’s easy for me because I’ve been here, done that,” Johnson said. “But I think these kids really now have got a great feel of how competitive, how good this league is.”

    With the 9-22 season firmly wrapped up for the Frogs, Johnson’s attention turns to next year’s set of challenges.

    “We will learn from what happened this year and we will meet March 17th individually and collectively and move forward and get ready for next year,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be interesting.”