KANSAS CITY — Another day, another punch in the gut for TCU. A lost lead, too many free throws by the opponent, and in the end, Jamie Dixon looking at a stat sheet wondering how it got away.
Hold it. Are we talking about Thursday, or 31 years ago? Could be either, and there’s the irony of it, now that the Horned Frogs are back in the thick of March.
THE BIG 12 CHRONICLES: CHAPTER 4
TCU lost in overtime to Kansas State 66-64 Thursday in the quarterfinals of the league tournament. Throw yet one more tough loss on the Frog pile.The TCU team that was once 12-0 has gone 9-11 its last 20 games. But consider how those defeats happened. Three were in overtime. Five more by a combined 17 points. Average margin in nine wins against Big 12 teams: 11.9. In 10 losses: 5.7.
“We’ve had an interesting season,” Dixon said Thursday after the latest toughie, which included his team missing seven of 14 free throws.
Still, 21-11 TCU will likely be in the NCAA tournament, scars and all. And that’s a new day in Fort Worth. The last Horned Frogs’ appearance was 19 years ago. Their last tournament victory was in 1987, when they were knocked out of the second round by Notre Dame 59-57 with two free throws by David Rivers, after a controversial foul. Three decades later, there are TCU fans who still swear it should have been charging on Rivers that that day instead of blocking on a Horned Frog guard.
“A game kind of similar to this one,” he said Thursday. “We had the lead and let it get away from us and then they made the free throws down the stretch. The same old thing 30 years later. A whole different game, but (you still have to) keep people off the free throw line and make them make a shot, and execute when you have a lead.”
Still haunted by 1987?
“I don’t cringe about it. Too many games since then.”
Painful defeat is part of the deal in sports, and Dixon ought to know after the past winter. He’s had to accept a lot since the losing started against Oklahoma Dec. 30. By one point.
“I don’t know if it’s accept it,” he said. “You can’t change it. It is what it is. Sports is about dealing with setbacks and coming up short. You grow in character from it. You don’t let it affect you going forward.”
What he has been trying to do is figure out why this keeps happening.
“I’m disappointed to have that lead and let it get away from us,” he said of Thursday. “But we know why it did, and we're going to learn from it.
“We’re a young group and in a new position, playing for an NCAA bid. We’ve got to get better.”
Such as . . .
“I think defensively we’re just not where we need to be to get stops.”
Also . . .
“We continue to put people at the line when they have trouble scoring against us. It’s an amazing world . . . We make the free throws, they don’t make the free throws, you’re asking different questions.
“It’ a fine line. We can’t get beat at the free throw line. When we’ve lost we’ve got beat at the free throw line, it’s that simple.”
And . . .
"You’ve got to learn from it. Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, you haven’t figured it out. The other teams are trying, too.”
Finally . . .
“You don’t let the last game stick with you. That’ll be our opportunity here now going forward, it’ll be a clean slate going forward. Everybody’s even. We’ll go see where it plays out.”
As TCU guard Alex Robinson said Thursday, “Just gotta move on.” Dixon learned that in 1987. And was reminded again this season.