By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
NEW YORK -- Three teams have never been this far. One, Georgia Tech, made it on one occasion in 1971, when they eventually finished runner-up to North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets will be back in their second NIT final after handling CSU Bakersfield Tuesday, 76-61, and will meet TCU on Thursday for the championship of the nation’s oldest postseason tournament.
GEORGIA TECH 76, CSU BAKERSFIELD 61
After five possessions, the Yellow Jackets led by a score of 4-1. Both teams average in the high sixties in possessions per game, and contested a consistent pace in the early going. After a turnover-riddled start, CSU Bakersfield finally got into the scorebooks after almost three-and-a-half minutes elapsed.
Georgia Tech zoned actively, with occasional double-teams and traps. The Roadrunners experienced difficulty early, as the zone disrupted the passing lanes and created turnovers. At the 8-minute media timeout, Georgia Tech led 22-18, showing a 116 offensive efficiency.
Down eight, the Roadrunners soon went into a 2-2-1 full court press, not as much to force turnovers as get the tempo to speed up. Having trouble in a half court zone offense, head coach Rod Barnes looked to beat it down the floor in transition before the zone could set up. On the defensive end, too many easy baskets were allowed, as the Yellow Jackets executed the back door with near-flawless precision.
Halftime: Georgia Tech 36, CSU Bakersfield 26
Offensive efficiency: Georgia Tech 103, CSU Bakersfield 74
Getting off to a fast start in the second half was crucial for the Roadrunners. At best, they played Georgia Tech even.
CSU Bakersfield pressured after scores and picked up just over the timeline in their half court defense, but Georgia Tech still attacked with poise and the aforementioned back doors were proof of their focus on execution. Offensively, the Roadrunners struggled to get anything going consistently against the Tech zone.
Offensive efficiency: Georgia Tech 110, CSU Bakersfield 88
What Georgia Tech did well: Care for the ball. Seven turnovers contributed to a low turnover rate against a defense forcing a 23 percent rate per game.
What CS Bakersfield did well: Hit the boards. The Roadrunners led in offensive rebound percentage, and in raw figures outrebounded, Georgia Tech 39-38.
Ball control index:
Georgia Tech 3.14
CSU Bakersfield 1.20
Georgia Tech is now 21-15. CSU Bakersfield wraps up the season 25-10.
TCU 68, UCF 53
The Golden Knights took an early 6-4 lead after five possessions, consistent with both teams that posted a high-60 average during the season in possessions per game.
UCF’s 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall and TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky, at 6-foot-11, posed an interesting matchup. Fall, the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is a post-up option with a soft touch. With Fall in the game, TCU ran more, as his presence makes it difficult to get inside in a half court setting.
Though Fall has a presence. Coach Johnny Dawkins’ Knights still use a lot of ball screen action to free the guards, and are not hesitant to let it fly beyond the arc. UCF led for most of the half, and at times, threatened to pull away. TCU would not go away, though, trailing by just two at halftime, 31-29.
Possessions: TCU 30, UCF 29
Offensive efficiency: UCF 107, TCU 97
TCU scored on their first three second half possessions to start a 7-0 run. The Horned Frogs went on to dominate the first four minutes, 15-3. At the 16-minute timeout, they led 44-34, with momentum decidedly in their favor.
TCU did a great job attacking the basket. JD Miller, a 6-foot-8 forward, set the tone early with a few baseline drives. Kenrich Williams also was a factor hitting a few threes and doing some damage in the paint. The Horned Frogs also got out in transition, running even on long rebounds, while UCF spent the better part of the half trying to regain an offensive rhythm. TCU led by nine with under eight minutes to go in one of those games where the nine-point deficit feels like 19. Down the stretch, the inside work of Brodziansky effectively negated any attempt of a comeback by UCF.
Possessions: TCU 65, UCF 63
Offensive efficiency: TCU 105, UCF 84
What TCU did well: Share the ball. Twenty assists on 26 field goals epitomized the efficient offensive effort with a 77 percent assist rate.
What UCF did well: Care for the ball and block shots. The Golden Knights committed only 10 turnovers, an admirable 16 percent rate. UCF rejected seven shot attempts, all but one of which was registered by Fall.
Ball control index:
Keys to victory:
Finding a way.
TCU trailed by 10 with five minutes left in the first half. They went on a run to get within one possession at the break. Their resilience was a factor lauded by coach Jamie Dixon.
Different players stepped up. Brodziansky had a big night with his game-high 18 points and nine rebounds, five of which were offensive. Kenrich Williams had a triple-double against Richmond in the quarterfinals and nearly did it again with 14 points, 14 boards and seven assists. JD Miller also added nine points.
Second half start.
The first four minutes of the second half are crucial, and TCU used that time to continue the momentum they had closing out the first half. That run after intermission was decisive, as Central Florida could never recover.
Penetrating and making better decisions.
Dixon said at halftime he urged his team to penetrate more. They did, with excellent results. The TCU mentor was also pleased that once they got in the lane, his group made great decisions and did not force the issue.
Rebounding. TCU led in offensive rebound percentage, and in raw numbers, owned the glass by a 44-35 count. Those boards helped the Horned Frogs own a 36-22 edge on points in the paint.
TCU is now 23-15. UCF closes out 24-12.