The game's ending was certainly more interesting than the start from the home team's perspective. TCU built a double-digit lead midway of the first half and with seven minutes left in the second period seemed completely in control, 55-40. Only a magnificent effort from off-guard Sword in the face of the Horned Frog zone defense kept it remotely a contest.
A couple of outside shots from backup guard I.J. Ready dropped in short order, sparking a Bulldog rally that cut the deficit to 59-56 with 2:28 still to play. That was as close as things would ever get, as TCU made six-straight free throws and 8-of-10 down the closing stretch. In fact it was Frog prowess at the stripe, making 25-of-31 chances, which stuck out to Bulldog Coach Rick Ray.
"Any time you make more free throws than the opposing team shoots you're going to win," said Ray. The coach wasn't critiquing the officiating at all, but was commenting more on his own team's failure to make clean stops all evening.
"We refuse to be sound on the defense end," Ray said.
TCU's defense wasn't dominating either, as State was only out-shot 46% to 43%. The glaring difference was outside accuracy; where the Frogs went 6-of-14 and stuck some early treys to build the big lead, the home team was 3-of-18 at the arc. All three longballs were courtesy of freshman Ready, returning from a four-game absence with a hamstring injury.
"The only threes we had were the threes I had the second half," he said, much more surprised than proud. While fans were busy calling for the Dogs to try beating TCU's zone with more outside attempts, Ray knew better…and Sword showed what ought have been done by teammates. The athletic sophomore attacked that zone every chance found seams and made baskets. Not easy ones either, but he got nine of his 12 attempts to fall.
"We started out trying to make threes," said Sword, being polite as he never attempted anything from beyond a couple of steps. "We didn't know they were going to be in (zone) the whole game, once we figured out we had to attack the rim and get better shots the results showed."
For Sword, that was. For the rest of the squad what showed was mostly frustration. Center Gavin Ware worked hard within a zone that continued shrinking with each outside miss but was 4-of-9, only made one trip to the foul line, and finished with nine points. It was his third single-digit outing in a row after averaging almost 17 points for the first four contests.
If not for Ready's nine second-half points and nine more from forward Rocquez Johnson, also off the bench, it would have been a blowout. Taking away Sword the other State starters were a combined 6-of-21 for 15 total points. Yet even this wasn't Ray's foremost concern.
"What we have here is everybody is wrapped up in or offense; coaching staff, players, the fans about our offense against the zone. They (TCU) shot 45% from the field. We're just not solid right now on the defensive end."
TCU got a career-best 20 points by guard Charles Hill, all of it off the bench and half in the first period. The Frogs closed that period on a 8-2 run, and by 15:03 of the second were in front 45-27 after consecutive treys by Hill. His layup at 10:09 still had the margin at 18 points, roughly what Sword had scored to that point.
It was Ready's sticking those threeballs that gave the Bulldogs a slender chance, along with a three-minute TCU scoring slump. Johnson came up with a loose ball basket to make it the three-point difference, but he also had to foul on the other end. Hill, to be specific, and he made both free throws. Ready missed another outside try and Kyan Anderson's layup at 1:43 stabilized things in TCU's favor. State got no closer than six points in the last 90 seconds.
"We had a lot of momentum," Sword said. "We should have been playing like that from the start of the game. We didn't have enough energy to finish off the game."
Anderson had 16 points for TCU, and Michael Williams ten off the bench. Center Karviar Shepherd didn't make double digits with nine points but owned the glass with 16 of his team's 34 rebounds.
"It's a good win for us," Coach Trent Johnson said. "Obviously we're a little bit undermanned." The Frogs were playing without a pair of their regulars, which coaxed the coach into going full-time zone after all. "That's what we have to do until we get a couple more guys on deck. We were forced to play zone." I like man. But I like winning, too."
Ray would like for his team to start winning against quality-conference leagues. Instead they are 0-2 and still showing the weak links at each end. One of which has the coach particularly concerned.
"We made a comeback and played hard but that was from desperation, that doesn't count," Ray said. "It's going to be like that every single time until we buy into defense and play it from the beginning."
The Bulldogs are off until December 13 when they play Southeastern Louisiana in Tupelo's Bancorp South Center.