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NIT Notebook: Georgia Tech and TCU to the finals

March 29, 2017 Columns No Comments

NEW YORK – Georgia Tech and TCU will play for the 80th NIT title on Thursday evening. The Yellow Jackets ended CSU Bakersfield’s run, defeating the Roadrunners 76-61 in the opener. In the nightcap TCU came from behind to defeat UCF 68-53.

UCF’s Tacko Fall was the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The 7-6 Fall blocked six shots on the night and did show a soft touch, scoring seven points. Unfortunately for the Knights, he was saddled by foul trouble, playing only 23 minutes on the night before fouling out.

Georgia Tech faced a Bakersfield group known for forcing turnovers. The Roadrunner defensive TO rate coming in was a stellar 23 percent, but Tech committed only seven miscues for an outstanding 10 percent TO rate. “We definitely had great preparation prior to this game,” Georgia Tech Freshman Josh Okogie (a game-high 22-point scorer) said. “Coach (Josh Pastner) said before the game we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and I think we did that early. We knew the press was coming and we trust each other with the ball.”

Josh Pastner has his Georgia Tech team playing for an NIT championship (Ray Floriani photo)

TCU’s 6-11 Vlad Brodziansky, one of the Big 12’s best defensive players, stepped up with a huge offensive game in the nightcap. The junior scored a game-high 18 points, adding nine rebounds. Brodziansky scored a few big buckets in the final minutes which effectively negated any chance of a UCF comeback.

CSU Bakersfield, known for having a strong defense, ran into a pretty good one against Georgia Tech. Or maybe it should be said good one(s). Pastner continuously changed defenses with different zone looks and occasional half- or full-court pressure. His objective was to keep Bakersfield off balance on offense. Mission accomplished, as normally a 101 offensive efficiency club, Bakersfield was well below par with an 88 OE on the night.

For Bakersfield, it was a disappointment in their maiden Garden outing. The positive side under the masterful tutelage of coach Rod Barnes was being the first eight seed, since seeding began, to win three road games and reach New York. They complete a 25-10 season and the farthest they have advanced in a national tournament on the D I level. Bakersfield has been eligible for Division I tournaments for only seven years. In fact, the school did not start playing basketball until 1971.

TCU trailed by 10 with five minutes remaining in the first half. The Horned Frogs went on a run to cut the deficit to two by halftime. In those all-important first four minutes of the second half, they got out fast on a 15-3 spurt to take a ten-point lead of their own. They were never seriously challenged following that knockout punch.

“We talked about getting penetration in the lane at halftime,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said. “We got that, but I also thought we made good decisions once we got in the lane.”

TCU’s Kenrich Williams had a triple-double in the quarterfinal win over Richmond. The 6-7 junior nearly did it again with a 14-point, 14-rebound (game-high) and seven assist night.

For Josh Pastner, regardless what happens on Thursday the season has been a “modern miracle”. Virtually written off a few weeks earlier following the opening round ACC Tournament loss to Pitt at Barclays Center, Georgia Tech has embraced the NIT.

“A lot of teams from conferences like ours may not get an NCAA bid and do not have the interest in the NIT,” Pastner said during a scouting break halftime of the TCU game. “We felt the NIT was a great opportunity. A chance to do something special in a great tournament with tradition. Our players and staff went into this (NIT) with full commitment.”

Pastner admits from the days of the first workouts in the fall there is no way he envisioned his team playing for a national championship. “It’s been a heck of a season,” he added. “It’s been a great lesson for me to see it all unfold. The power of team.” A team headed to the championship game on the biggest stage.

The tempo free numbers:

Offensive efficiency
CSU Bakersfield 88
Georgia Tech 110

TCU 105
UCF 84

Pace (possessions):
CSU Bakersfield 69
Georgia Tech 69

TCU 65
UCF 63

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