TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon has employed a simple but effective strategy to deal with the absence of freshman point guard Jaylen Fisher during the team’s three-game surge to Thursday’s NIT championship game: more Kenrich.
The Horned Frogs’ first-year coach plans to play the Kenrich Williams card one more time, in a big way, when TCU (23-15) meets Georgia Tech (21-15) to decide the NIT championship at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. Thus far, Williams has been TCU’s postseason ace.
Williams, the Horned Frogs’ 6-foot-7 guard and double-double machine, has delivered in ways Dixon could not have imagined when the season began in November. The junior from Waco, who missed last season because of a knee surgery, also sat out the Frogs’ first two contests this year before returning to the floor after 618 days between games.
He has more than made up for lost time with 18 double-doubles, including three in a row since Fisher was lost for the season with a broken wrist sustained in a 66-59 victory over Fresno State in the team’s NIT opener. He has also emerged as a key distributor with Fisher on the sideline.
Williams actually has more assists in the Frogs’ last three games (23) than point guard Alex Robinson (22). He has also contributed 13.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game during that stretch, filling out some eye-catching stat lines and elevating the efficiency of a TCU offense that has averaged 82.7 points per game without Fisher, the highest-rated recruit in program history who led all Big 12 freshmen in assists this season (140).
“Kenrich getting healthy was huge for us,” Dixon said Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Williams contributed 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in TCU’s 68-53 win over Central Florida in the semifinals. “He’s just finding his legs, getting better. He’s too good an athlete and too good a decision maker not to use him, and he’s getting better.
“We’re finding ways to play through him and play with him. We’re playing through him in the post. We’re playing through him on the perimeter as well.”
Williams’ totals for rebounds and assists against UCF were team highs and followed his milestone performance during last week’s 86-68 rout of Richmond. In the game that sealed TCU’s trip to New York, Williams produced the second triple-double in school history (11 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists). During Fisher’s absence, Williams is averaging a team-high 7.7 assists per game. His season mark is 2.8.
“I’m getting the ball more,” Williams said. “I’m being more aggressive in finding my teammates. It has something to do with our point guard missing, me stepping up and Jaylen missing. Just me being more aggressive and finding open guys.”
It’s also a result of a recent Dixon edict as the Frogs seek to cap their turnaround season with an NIT title after finishing 12-21 last year.
“We’re telling him to be more aggressive. Straight line drives, just go by people,” Dixon said. “In the second half [against UCF], he just kind of took over in all sorts of different ways. Passing, finishing, offensive rebounding. We just let him go and do his thing.”
Williams’ increased impact as a distributor has not limited his contributions as a scorer or rebounder. They have blended nicely with a recent spike in production from Robinson, who has averaged 12 points and 7.1 assists per game in Fisher’s absence. As a team, TCU has committed only 30 turnovers since Fisher left the lineup (10 per game).
The numbers suggest TCU is playing its most efficient offense of the season when the stakes have been highest: during the deepest postseason tournament run in program history. Williams has been a big part of that, but he’s had help. He’s part of a team that embraces the opportunity to bring home an NIT championship banner to Schollmaier Arena.
“If we’re able to do that, it would really be a dream come true for me,” said guard Brandon Parrish, a senior from Arlington Seguin who will play in his school-record 136th game in a TCU uniform. “Just thinking about our time here and how low some of our moments have been, for us to end on a moment so high, it would be so special. Especially for the seniors. And it would be great for our program to help our young guys to start off with success and give them the success. Give them the momentum to achieve greater things than this.”
- TCU vs. Georgia Tech
- 7 p.m. Thursdsay, ESPN