TCU’s turnaround men’s basketball season moved one step closer to an NIT championship Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden.
The Horned Frogs knocked off Central Florida 68-53 to secure a berth in Thursday’s championship game against Georgia Tech. TCU rallied from a double-digit, first-half deficit behind a 26-5 surge during the middle stages of the contest, with much of the heavy lifting coming from forward Vladimir Brodziansky (18 points, 9 rebounds) and guard Kenrich Williams (14 points, 14 rebounds), who contributed his 18th double-double of the season.
TCU improved to 23-15 and will face Georgia Tech, a 76-61 winner over Cal State Bakersfield in Tuesday’s early game, for the NIT title.
After some early struggles, TCU opened the second half with a 7-0 run in the first 1:33 to take a 36-31 lead and flip the momentum. The Frogs, who led only once in the first half (by a 2-0 margin), got a JD Miller layup, a Williams dunk and a Williams’ 3-pointer to force a UCF timeout.
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After a 3-pointer by UCF’s B.J. Taylor, TCU responded with another 9-0 run that included a three-point play by Miller, a Miller layup, a Desmond Bane 3-pointer and a free throw by Brodziansky.
The Frogs, who trailed 29-19 with 5:05 remaining in the first half, suddenly held a 45-34 lead after their game-turning, 26-5 surge. UCF rallied, cutting the Frogs’ lead to 57-50 at the 3:21 mark before a personal 5-0 spurt by Brodziansky (layup, three-point play) built the lead back to double-digits with 2:40 remaining. TCU got it home from there, winning for the sixth time in the team’s last seven games.
Tacko Fall, UCF’s 7-foot-6 center, fouled out after contributing seven points, six blocks and five rebounds.
During a first half filled with runs by both teams, UCF raced to 10-4 lead within the first five minutes by making 5-of-6 shots from the field to start the game. Knights guard Matt Williams made 5-of-10 in the first half, including 3-of-7 from beyond the arc, to help UCF build a double-digit advantage, 29-19, with 5:05 left until intermission.
But TCU roared back with a 10-0 run, tying the contest on Brandon Parrish’s 3-pointer with 1:48 to play. A Matt Williams jumper with 49 seconds remaining sent the Knights into the locker room with a 31-29 lead before TCU continued its rally in the second half.
Regardless of Thursday’s outcome, merely making it to the NIT finals in New York projects as a major coup for the Horned Frogs coming off last year’s 12-21 record in the estimation of Fran Fraschilla, an ESPN college basketball analyst. Fraschilla, a former college coach for nine seasons at Manhattan (1992-96), St. John’s (1996-98) and New Mexico (1999-2002), worked Tuesday’s NIT telecasts and is a regular on Big 12 games during the regular season.
“This is a great launching pad for TCU basketball going forward,” said said Fraschilla, a Dallas resident. “They’ll start next year as a top half of the Big 12 type of team.”
Fraschilla made it to eight postseason tournaments in his nine seasons as a college coach. His teams earned three NCAA Tournament berths and made five NIT appearances. By making it to New York for the NIT semifinals, Fraschilla said TCU probably gained more from its postseason experience in terms of national recognition for the program than it would have achieved with a one-and-done NCAA appearance.
“Coming to New York is like playing in a really nice bowl game,” Fraschilla said, drawing a football analogy. “It’s not the College Football Playoff, but it’s like going to a good bowl game against a quality opponent. This NIT has been, for many teams, a great stepping stone to national prominence in basketball.”
TCU (23-15): Brodziansky 7-13 4-8 18, Miller 4-7 1-2 9, K.Williams 6-11 0-2 14, Bane 1-4 2-2 5, Robinson 2-10 0-0 5, Washburn 1-2 2-2 4, Shepherd 1-2 0-0 2, Sottile 0-0 0-0 0, M.Williams 2-4 0-0 6, B.Parrish 2-6 0-0 5, Dry 0-1 0-0 0, J.Parrish 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 9-16 68.
UCF (24-12): Banyard 1-4 0-0 3, Fall 3-5 1-2 7, Ma.Williams 5-17 2-2 15, Taylor 4-15 1-4 10, Davis 3-7 3-4 9, Brown 1-2 2-2 4, Stephenson 0-1 0-0 0, Mumin 0-0 0-0 0, Laing 0-0 0-0 0, Morse 0-1 0-0 0, Efianayi 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 19-57 9-14 53.
Halftime—UCF 31-29. 3-Point Goals—TCU 7-20 (M.Williams 2-3, K.Williams 2-4, Bane 1-2, Robinson 1-3, B.Parrish 1-5, Washburn 0-1, Brodziansky 0-1, Miller 0-1), UCF 6-25 (Ma.Williams 3-11, Efianayi 1-2, Banyard 1-2, Taylor 1-7, Stephenson 0-1, Davis 0-1, Morse 0-1). Fouled Out—Fall. Rebounds—TCU 40 (K.Williams 14), UCF 29 (Banyard 6). Assists—TCU 20 (K.Williams 7), UCF 5 (Davis 2). Total Fouls—TCU 15, UCF 17.
NIT Championship Game
TCU vs. Georgia Tech
7 p.m. Thursday, ESPN