FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)Chuck O’Bannon, Mike Miles and their TCU teammates have been motivated all this season by what happened in the NCAA Tournament last year, when the Horned Frogs came so close to upsetting a No. 1 seed and getting to the Sweet 16.
“Still to this day, we talk about that last game,” O’Bannon said.
After getting through another brutal Big 12 schedule, including a six-game stretch without leading scorer Miles after he hyperextended his right knee, 22nd-ranked TCU (21-12) is making consecutive March Madness appearances for the first time in 70 years.
“It feels like it’s come up on us quick,” Miles said. “I feel like we’re more prepared than last year. We’re more experienced, we know how it feels to be in the tournament.”
TCU last March beat Seton Hall for its first NCAA Tournament victory in 35 years, when current coach Jamie Dixon was a senior guard on that 1987 team. The Frogs then overcame a nine-point deficit in the final eight minutes of regulation against Arizona before falling 85-80 in overtime.
Seven of the nine TCU players who took part in that OT loss are with the sixth-seeded Frogs in Denver for their first-round game Friday night. They play No. 11 seed Arizona State, which beat Nevada 98-73 in a First Four game Wednesday night.
Francisco Farabello transferred after last season to Creighton, also a No. 6 seed in this NCAA tourney. The guard reunited there with a former TCU assistant coach who had recruited him from Argentina.
Eddie Lampkin, the 6-foot-11, 263-pound center who had 20 points and 14 rebounds (10 offensive) against Arizona, is still listed on TCU’s roster but has entered the transfer portal after not being at the Big 12 tournament last week. He has deleted Instagram posts with screenshots of text messages from his mother that appeared to accuse Dixon of player mistreatment and “racial comments.”
Dixon has said he and the Frogs still love Lampkin, but there have been no further comments from the school.
It has been a difficult past year for Lampkin, whose brother, former Oklahoma defensive tackle Du’vonta Lampkin, was shot to death in a robbery in Dallas last May. Lampkin was sidelined several games because of a high ankle sprain, and missed another game to attend his aunt’s funeral. In 24 games, the big center averaged 6.3 points and 5.9 rebounds, both slightly below last season’s totals.
O’Bannon had a career-high 23 points against Arizona last March. Miles scored 20, including a go-ahead basket with 3 1/2 minutes left, but lost the ball at midcourt at the end of the regulation without being able to at least attempt a tiebreaking shot.
“I’ll always think about that,” Miles said.
That was the first NCAA appearance for the Frogs since 2018, and came 20 years after their only other one since Dixon was playing. Their only previous back-to-back tourneys were 1952 and 1953.
With so much talent back this season, a tourney return was expected. And the Frogs made it, working through a serious of injuries and absences to get there.
TCU played its first six games without senior guard Damion Baugh because of an NCAA-imposed suspension for signing with an NBA certified agent after last season. Baugh, who self-reported the incident, has started all 27 games since.
Miles got hurt before the first media timeout in a loss at Mississippi State on Jan. 28. TCU then lost four of the next five games without him during a stretch when Lampkin was also in and out of the lineup. Micah Peavy (back) missed four games in January, and Oklahoma State transfer Rondel Walker (elbow) was out four games in February.
“It shows we’re resilient,” Miles said. “We’ve missed a lot of players and a lot of games. We’ve mixed the lines up a lot this year. But we still find a way to compete, still find a way to win.”
After Big 12 coaches tabbed Miles the preseason player of the year, he was a second-team All-Big 12 pick after the missed time. He still averages 17.3 points a game, and in TCU’s two games at the Big 12 tournament was 12-of-26 shooting (five made 3-pointers) for 37 points.
“I feel like I’ve got a rhythm going into the tournament. I feel confident in everything, my knee and my shot,” Miles said.
“He’s playing really well, he’s practicing well, he’s shooting the ball well. … Mike is defending well,” Dixon said. “He’s playing his best basketball this time of the year. He’s healthy.”
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