LAS VEGAS – Jimmer Fredette scored 24 points and No. 8 BYU overcame a slow start to edge TCU 64-58 in the Mountain West Conference quarterfinals Thursday.
With suspended teammate Brandon Davies watching from the bench in street clothes, the top-seeded Cougars (29-3) had a tougher time than expected against a TCU team that went 1-15 in conference play before snapping a 13-game skid with a win over Wyoming in the play-in game 24 hours earlier.
The Cougars trailed the ninth-seeded Horned Frogs 34-33 at halftime and didn't take the lead for good until the 12:44 mark, when Jackson Emery swished a 3-pointer from the left corner to break a 40-all tie.
A minute later, Horned Frogs point guard Hank Thorns picked up his fourth foul, and center Nikola Cerina was soon whistled for his fourth, too, stymieing TCU's upset hopes.
Still, the Cougars couldn't shake the Frogs (11-22), who hurt themselves by flubbing a 3-on-1 break with 2½ minutes left that would have pulled them within two.
Fredette's 3-pointer from the top of the arc a minute later gave BYU a 58-50 cushion, and Noah Hartsock's pair of free throws made it 60-51 with 52 seconds remaining.
Senior Greg Hill, returning to the court after sitting out much of the second half after spraining his left ankle, had a four-point play with 43 seconds left, then swished another 3 with 22 seconds left, pulling TCU to 60-58.
Fredette was fouled with 12 seconds remaining and the nation's leading scorer and league's offensive player of the year sank both foul shots.
Emery, the Mountain West's defensive player of the year, then blocked Thorns' drive to the basket with 4 seconds left, sealing BYU's sweat-it-out win.
Hill and Thorns each finished with 15 points for the Frogs, and J.R. Cadot added 12.
Charles Abouo chipped in 14 points for the Cougars, and Hartsock had 10.
The Cougars, who own the fourth-best RPI in the nation — TCU is ranked 210th — are refining their new four-guard lineup for the NCAA tournament following last week's suspension of Davies for violating the school's honor code. This wasn't exactly the kind of performance that will wow the NCAA selection committee.
Fredette was just 7 of 21 from the floor and Emery was 3 of 13.
The Cougars were ranked third in the country when their sophomore center was suspended, reportedly for having sex with his girlfriend, a violation of the Mormon church's standards. They were blown out by New Mexico in their first game without Davis before regrouping to beat Wyoming last week and earn a share of the conference crown with San Diego State.
Still, they dropped to eighth in the rankings and will have to win this tournament and hope for a series of upsets to earn a No. 1 seed when the selection committee announces the brackets on Sunday.
BYU's best run in the NCAA tournament came 30 years ago when the Cougars reached the round of 8 behind Danny Ainge.
The Horned Frogs, who snapped their 13-game losing streak with a 70-61 win over Wyoming on Wednesday, pinned their upset hopes on the absence of Davies, who accompanied his teammates and was on the bench in a black dress shirt and slacks.
"They're vulnerable in the post; we can probably drive it down there more," Thorns said.
Sure enough, the Horned Frogs led 34-30 following Garlon Green's 3-pointer, then settled for a 34-33 halftime lead after Fredette responded with a 3 of his own.
The Cougars were glad to have Davies on hand, if not on the court.
"He's been there through the good times, the bad times, the summer workouts, he's been there through everything," Fredette said. "So, it's great to have him in there and knowing that we're still going to support him and it's a tough time for him more than us. So, we're looking forward to supporting him.
"People make mistakes. That's what happens and you just move forward from it."