After a close encounter, No. 25 from Iowa meets TCU in the finals of the Emerald Coast

TCU has a chance to impress national pollsters when the Horned Frogs meet 25th-place Iowa in the finals of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla. on Saturday night.

The Horned Frogs (4-1) advanced to Friday’s championship game at the expense of winless California and grabbed 23 points on Mike Miles Jr.’s return to action in a 59-48 win.

Earlier, Iowa (5-0) weathered a late upset from Clemson with a 74-71 semifinal win after squandering a nearly 14-point lead in the final eight minutes.

TCU ranked 14th in the AP season-opener poll, falling to 15th after some lackluster home wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Lamar.

The close games eventually caught up with the Horned Frogs as they were shocked 64-63 at home by Northwestern State, resulting in TCU being dropped from the most recent ranking.

Miles, the team’s top scorer, missed the loss with a bruised foot. In fact, he missed two straight games before reappearing off the bench against Cal.

The Horned Frogs have won their last two against Louisiana-Monroe and Cal, with the latter traveling the country as one of the 11 remaining winless teams in Division I after dropping its first five, including four straight at home.

As was his pattern, TCU struggled to knock out an underdog, leading 7:42 to go with eight before Miles came through with nine, his highest score of the game.

The junior guard was able to play 34 of the 40 minutes of the game on his return.

Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon hopes his veteran team, coming off a 21-13 season and one NCAA tournament berth, has been waiting for a big-name challenge to show their best stuff.

“It’s funny,” he said. “We were a young team with no returns last year and now a year later we are the old, experienced team. That wasn’t typically the case in men’s collegiate athletics. Now you’re feeling a little better and you feel good in your own skin. You worked hard.”

Iowa had to work harder than expected to finish off Clemson, who used a 16-2 run to stun the Hawkeyes and pull off a 62-all tie with 3:34 remaining.

Two fouls from Patrick McCaffery put the Hawkeyes back on the right track, and Tony Perkins’ six late free throws crushed the win.

“That’s kind of how he is,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Perkins, whose three sets with two foul shots came in the final 20 seconds after the Tigers closed within three, two, then one on a four-second Chase Hunter jumper had left. “He’s a player. In such situations you trust him.”

Patrick McCaffery, the coach’s son, led the Hawkeyes with 21 points. Perkins finished with 11 points, nine coming from 10 free throw attempts.

Iowa will have some rematch motivation in the tournament finals after losing 94-92 at home to TCU in the second round of the 2017 NIT.

–Field level media