Georgia Tech and TCU both shot 26 for 60 in 15-point wins in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday at MSG, setting up a meeting in the title game on Thursday.
First, Georgia Tech led wire-to-wire in a 76-61 win over CSU Bakersfield. Then TCU erased a 10-point deficit in a 68-53 win over UCF.
Georgia Tech had 16 assists and only seven turnovers against a tough defense. “We definitely had great preparation prior to this game,” said forward Josh Okogie, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. “We had a couple great practices and a great shootaround on being ball tough and just passing drills and making the right passes, sharpen our passes, and I think we did a good job of transitioning that into the game.”
Center Ben Lammers had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, Quinton Stephens had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Tadric Jackson added 12 points.
Head coach Josh Pastner has led GT to the NIT title in his first season and was named ACC Coach of the Year for winning games in was what the toughest conference in the regular season. Pastner called the season a “modern miracle”. The coach recalled what other coaches told him in the spring: “It’s going to be a hard year for you. You’re never going to experience the amount of losing that you’re going to go through this year.”
Now the only team in the way of Georgia Tech is another group led by a coach in his first year with a team. Jamie Dixon went back to his alma mater and has the Horned Frogs in the NIT title game. Vlad Brodziansky scored 18 points, hauled in nine rebounds and dished out three assists in Tuesday’s win. Kenrich Williams had 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. TCU out scored UCF 39-22 in the second half. “First half, we didn’t play to well but we were playing hard,” Williams said. “Second half we played, I think we played pretty good. We were hitting shots.”
‘TCU went 12-21 in 2015-16 under Trent Johnson. The senior class that Dixon is leading went 0-18 in conference play as freshmen. “When you get into a job, you wonder if you’re ever going to get those seniors to buy in,” Dixon said.
“They have a new coach and how are they going to respond, how are they going to handle and these guys have been, as I call them, the four believers, because they have been through a lot: 0-18, playing in a high school gym for a year and a half, practicing in a different place, injuries, coaching change.”
As TCU gets ready to play Georgia Tech, Dixon noted a major factor for his team’s play was that they don’t want the season to end, from the passion of the players and assistant coaches. “They love going to practice and they love being around each other, and the celebration in the locker room was, you could just see the joy,” Dixon said. “We’re going to enjoy it for about a couple more hours and then we’ll get ready for Georgia Tech.”