Frogs punch ticket to NIT Final with 68-53 win over Central Florida

After being picked 10th in the league, TCU will be playing for the NIT Championship on Thursday night. Horned Frog Insider was in New York on Tuesday night when the Frogs beat Central Florida, 68-53.

NEW YORK – The Horned Frogs earned the right to compete for their first tournament championship in program history Tuesday night, defeating Central Florida 68-53 in the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden to advance to Thursday’s NIT Title Game. https://twitter.com/TCUBasketball/status/846926554731106304

TCU’s star players showed up when it mattered most under the bright lights of the Big Apple, as junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky went-off for a game-high 18 points on top 9 rebounds, while junior guard Kenrich Williams embarked on a 12-point, 14-rebound performance for yet another double-double on the season. Forward JD Miller finished third in TCU scoring with 9 points on the night.

First-year head coach Jamie Dixon described the game as a complete team effort as the Frogs advanced to the final chapter of what has become a magical run in the tournament.

“It was a great win for us and what I liked about it was that we played all nine,” Dixon said. “Different guys stepped up early, different guys stepped up late, and that’s what you want to have as far as a March team. It’s just been fun to coach.”

Nobody for TCU may have had more of an impact on the outcome than Williams and Miller. Both played a critical role in a 15-3 scoring run that TCU used to open up the second half and take the lead for good, as the two combined for 12 of the points during the stretch. From that point on, TCU never led by less than seven, growing the lead all the way to 15 points by the time the final buzzer sounded.

“I thought Kenrich was terrific in the second half,” Dixon said. “He just kind of took over passing, finishing, offensive rebounding, and you know, that’s pretty big. Just let him go do his thing.”

Williams said aggressiveness and making up for absent players, such as injured freshman Jaylen Fisher, was the key to his successful outing on the court.

“I’m being more aggressive in finding my teammates,” Williams said. “It has something to do with [Jaylen] missing….just me being aggressive and finding open guys.”

And it took some time for the Frogs to find the aggressiveness that Williams described at the garden on Tuesday night.

Despite getting on the board first with a Miller dunk 16 seconds in, the Frogs showed a lack-luster start to the contest, facing a 10-point deficit with just less than six minutes to play in the first half. The Frogs allowed four three-pointers to the Knights on eight looks from beyond the arc in that stretch, while finishing the first half shooting just 37.5 percent.

But just when it appeared the Frogs may not have been up to the challenge, they turned things on with a 10-0 scoring run to tie the game at 29 in the closing moments of the first half. A Matt Williams jumper in the final minute, however, gave the Knights a 31-29 halftime lead over the Frogs.

With momentum on their side though, TCU charged out of the locker room with seven straight points, ultimately outscoring the Knights 25-3 in a span of less than 10 minutes to go from down 10 to up 11 at 45-34.

Brodziansky said the team had a sense of extra urgency out of halftime that sparked the run.

We were talking at halftime about how we only had 20 more minutes left,” Brodziansky said. “If we were going to last 20 minutes, how about just try to come up with blocks and play our hardest and execute?” https://twitter.com/dwstraka49/status/846926933694799872

From there on out, the Frogs were in total control, holding the Knights to just one three-pointer the entire second half en route to one of the biggest wins in program history.

Dixon said after the win that limiting the Knight’s success from beyond the arc was stressed to his players from the start.

“Guard the three – that was the message and that was the goal,” Dixon said. “I thought we did a good job for 40 minutes. They went 24 percent from three. They made five in the first half and our goal was under ten, and that was a key.”

TCU finished the night shooting just 43.3 percent from the field, but it was enough to best UCF’s rate of 33.3 percent. The Frogs were also able to overcome UCF’s size in players such as 7-foot-6-inch center Tacko Fall by winning the rebounding battle 44-35.

“It was a fight,” Williams said. “We really picked it up in the second half. We got a lot of loose balls. I mean, rebounding was huge for us throughout the game.”

With the Frogs now having the chance to end their postseason journey with a fairy-tale ending, Dixon highlighted the dedication of his players from start to end over the course of the season, especially among his seniors.

“The type of kids, the type of character, the unbelievable unselfishness they displayed throughout the season, and their work ethic – I mean their roles have changed throughout the year, but they have come and practiced hard,” Dixon said. “They’ve shown how much they love TCU and how much they love the opportunity this has given them.”

That opportunity will culminate with TCU battling George Tech Thursday night for all the glory of an NIT championship. The game will be played right back on the floor of Madison Square Garden, with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT.


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