The TCU men’s basketball team (12-7 overall, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) used an early second half run to get ahead and hold off Air Force (11-7 overall, 1-3 MWC), beating the Falcons 59-56 Wednesday night to earn its second straight conference win.
But the Frogs’ win nearly went to overtime.
TCU forward Craig Williams was called for an illegal pick with 16 seconds left in the game, giving Air Force the ball back with a chance to tie the game.
The Falcons failed take advantage of it.
Air Force guard Todd Fletcher missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving TCU the victory and their first conference winning streak since 2009. The Frogs went 1-15 in Mountain West regular season play last season, their lone win coming against Wyoming Jan. 12.
TCU point guard Hank Thorns said beating the Falcons and eclipsing last year’s conference win total was a relief – but it wasn’t something on their mind heading into Wednesday night.
“Once we got the first one [against Boise State] we were like ‘Ok, it’s over, the monkey’s off our back,’” Thorns said, who led all scorers with a career-high 22 points. “Now it’s just time to go out there and play like we know how, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Like Saturday’s win over Boise State, the Frogs had to come from behind to get the victory.
TCU trailed 28-26 at the half but quickly went on an 8-0 run after halftime to take a 34-30 lead with 16:48 left in the game. Air Force would keep it close, tying the game several times and having a chance to send it into overtime, but the Falcons did not lead again.
Head coach Jim Christian said he stressed to his team in the locker room at halftime the need to play more up-tempo, as well as work the ball into the interior.
“The message at halftime was that we just need to get out in transition more, and I thought we did some of that,” Christian said. “And the ball had to go inside out. We had to get the ball back into the post.”
Thorns shot a blistering 9-of-12 from the field, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.
But the senior’s biggest impact came late in the first half with TCU trailing 16-12 and struggling offensively. Thorns knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, then scored consecutive layups to tie the game at 22-22 with 3:44 left until halftime.
Thorns said his 10-point run was simply a matter of him getting in stride. When he does that, he said, he’s hard to stop.
“I just got into a rhythm,” Thorns said. “And once I get in a rhythm like that, I get flashbacks to when I was in high school. When I got a rhythm like that in high school, I probably would’ve gone for 40.”
Christian said it was key the Frogs played tough and stayed in control against an Air Force team that slowed down the pace of the game and only took 37 shots all night.
“You play Air Force, and you know it’s going to be a grind out,” Christian said. “It’s going to be a possession-by-possesion game and it’s important not to lose your focus. That’s growth for us. That’s two games in a row now where we’ve had to get stops, and we’ve gotten stops. When we’ve had to get a rebound, we’ve got a rebound. We’ve hit timely shots. To have a chance in this league, it’s going to be like that every night.”
TCU will be back in action Saturday at New Mexico (15-4 overall, 1-2 MWC, as of time of publication). Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. CT.
Senior J.R. Cadot had 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds for the Frogs, his strongest effort since an 18-point outing against Texas Tech on Dec. 6.
TCU shot 44.7 percent (21-of-47) from the field and held Air Force to just three 3-pointers.
Junior center Taylor Broekhuis led the Falcons with 15 points and seven rebounds.