Challenge. It's a word thrown about in college sports as a result of two leagues above the red line playing one another in a series of games that were made for TV. It has become all the rage for those leagues that just can't get stop themselves from expanding all to try to get a bigger piece of the pie. Tonight's game between TCU and Evansville is part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, an event that came about as a way for both leagues to improve their schedules and attempt to place a couple more teams into the at-large pool come Selection Sunday. The Horned Frogs are playing out the final season in the MWC before moving on up to the Big East, check that, Big XII as they parlay their gridiron success into a place in a BCS conference, well above the red line.
The game started off quite slow; not only were shots not falling, they were way off target. By my count, TCU threw up three attempts from long range that hit glass first, one banking in to the collective groans of the Purple Aces faithful along with two other airballs from inside the arc. Evansville was not much better, their shots would at least draw iron first before falling harmlessly to the floor. A defensive struggle left TCU with a 25-21 advantage at the half. For both teams the biggest challenge wasn't always getting open looks but finishing them.
The second half started with another challenge, this one issued by Evansville's Colt Ryan. He had 10 of the 21 Purple Aces points when play resumed but his actions on the first three possessions sent a message to his teammates. After poking the ball away, Ryan laid out, diving and securing the basketball. After the steal, he drove the lane for two and forced another turnover on the defensive end. He was not to be denied and for the first time all night, the Ford Center came to life in support of the Aces. The game began to find its natural flow and more offense ensued.
Everything was going along without much drama or turmoil and then, all of sudden, it got a bit hairy. Evansville's head coach Marty Simmons was T'd up after a Denver Holmes drive where he landed hard on the floor. After the TCU free throws, right after the inbounds pass, TCU was whistled for a Flagrant-1 foul on a push off. The conference that followed with both head coaches and the officials surely would have made for great fodder as neither coach was happy with the calls that went against them during this sequence.
Fast forward to the the final minute where UE broke a tie on a drive by Ned Cox. Cox, who was fouled on the play, hit his free throw to give the Aces a three point advantage. TCU answered with a step back three from point guard Nate Thorns, giving Evansville one final possession to win in regulation. Much like the previous possession, Cox drove the lane, missed the lay-up but got the loose ball and an open look from about eight feet that didn't drop. For the second time in four games at the new Ford Center, Evansville was hosting some free basketball.
The overtime session was a battle, no team earning more than a one possession lead. With the game tied, UE's Ryan had a good look from the corner but he could not add to his game high 31 points. TCU had one last chance to break the tie with the shot clock now off and turned to their hero from regulation Thorns. Thorns drove the lane and put in a lay-in high off the glass to give TCU a 70-68 advantage with 1.4 left in OT. After a timeout UE's Denver Holmes caught the pass near half-court, took one dribble before letting fly a forty footer that drew both glass and iron, but no net. The Horned Frogs celebrated another close victory by tossing the ball high into the air, a sign of another challenge completed while Evansville pondered what might have been had the final bounce in either regulation or OT gone their way.
TEXAS CHRISTIAN 70, at EVANSVILLE 68 12/03/2011
TEXAS CHRISTIAN 6-2 (0-0) -- H. Thorns 8-18 2-4 21; J. Cadot 6-7 0-0 13; N. Butler 0-4 0-0 0; G. Green 1-6 4-4 6; A. Fields 4-6 4-6 12; A. McKinney 3-6 3-4 9; K. Anderson 2-4 0-0 4; C. Crossland 1-1 0-0 3; C. Williams 1-1 0-0 2; J. Ray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 13-18 70. EVANSVILLE 3-3 (0-0) -- C. Ryan 7-17 14-16 31; K. Harris 1-6 3-4 5; D. Holmes 2-8 4-4 8; N. Cox 2-9 2-3 6; T. Taylor 2-2 4-6 8; L. Jones 1-3 2-4 4; M. Peeler 2-4 0-0 4; R. Sawvell 1-1 0-0 2; J. Jahr 0-1 0-0 0; R. Cesnulevicius 0-0 0-0 0; J. Nelson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 29-37 68.
Three-point goals: TCU 5-17 (H. Thorns 3-8; G. Green 0-3; J. Cadot 1-1; J. Ray 0-1; C. Crossland 1-1; K. Anderson 0-1; N. Butler 0-2), EVAN 3-15 (D. Holmes 0-3; C. Ryan 3-8; N. Cox 0-2; J. Jahr 0-1; K. Harris 0-1); Rebounds: TCU 38 (A. McKinney 14), EVAN 23 (C. Ryan 8); Assists: TCU 13 (H. Thorns 5), EVAN 11 (D. Holmes 8); Total Fouls -- TCU 27, EVAN 20; Fouled Out: TCU-None; EVAN-None.