No. 21 TCU steps up in class as it hosts Fresno State

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

TCU won its first two basketball games of the 2018-19 campaign -- that's a good thing.

But the Horned Frogs' overall performance, accomplished with two presumptive starters out with injuries and almost half of the team's minutes on the court filled with players seeing the first action of their careers, wasn't enough to keep them from falling from 20th to 21st in the latest Associated Press rankings.

The Horned Frogs' best way to take another step forward is to beat better competition, and they'll get that chance on Thursday when Fresno State visits Schollmaier Arena for the third of TCU's season-opening six-game homestand.

TCU's latest victory was 79-62 decision over Oral Roberts University on Sunday.

Desmond Bane (22 points), Alex Robinson 23 points and Kevin Samuel (11 points and 10 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double) did the heavy lifting for the Horned Frogs (2-0) in the win, which was a improvement over the down-to-the-wire season-opener on Nov. 7 against CSU Bakersfield.

"We're figuring it out. I thought we were really good early and then it just got away from us -- and that's what you might expect from a team that's finding itself," TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. "Our depth and length should help our defense, but we just have to keep getting better offensively. But we will."

Dixon lauded Bane and Robinson for their leadership in the season's opening weeks.

"Those are guys we're really comfortable with, and they're really comfortable with us and each other," Dixon said. "Guys just have to play together. That's what those guys bring and a better understanding of what it takes."

The Horned Frogs are awaiting the return of point guard Jaylen Fisher, forward Kouat Noi, and redshirt forward Lat Mayen from knee injuries. Dixon said he expects all three to be back on the court in the near future.

Fresno State, under new coach Justin Hutson, returns to the floor after a nine-day break after defeating Division II Alaska-Anchorage 91-63 on Nov. 6.

Guard Braxton Huggins, a transfer from New Mexico State, led the Bulldogs with 23 points in the win, with New Williams adding 14, and Deshon Taylor pouring in 11 points for Fresno State.

Hutson said that he wants the offense to be faster than it in recent seasons.

"We have some guards that can get into the paint and kick it out and make shots," said Hutson, the longtime San Diego State assistant who was hired in April. "It's something that we work on and talk about every day, and I thought we were better this game than we were last game (an exhibition victory) at sharing."

Taylor, who led the Bulldogs in scoring last season, said that the team is going to put pressure on opposing offenses by guarding them full court for stretches to force poor ballhandlers to bring the ball up the court.

"Some teams have forwards that really don't dribble well, so we try to press and have the forwards bring it up and not the point guard just to get them out of their offense and take off some shot clock," Taylor said.

The Bulldogs (1-0) were picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West, despite the fact they've finished with at least 20 wins in each of the past three seasons and four of the past five campaigns.

TCU leads the all-time series 5-4. The two teams met five times while members of the Western Athletic Conference from 1997-2001. The last meeting came on March 14, 2017 at Schollmaier Arena, in the first round of the NIT. TCU went on to win the next four games to capture its first postseason championship.