TCU’s turnaround men’s basketball season filled with program milestones added its most memorable memento Thursday night in Madison Square Garden: an NIT championship trophy soon to be on permanent display in Schollmaier Arena.
The Horned Frogs knocked off Georgia Tech 88-56 to add the final prize to a breakthrough season under first-year coach Jamie Dixon.
TCU (24-15) secured the first postseason tournament title in school history behind the efforts of forward Vladimir Brodziansky (18 points, six rebounds) and guard Kenrich Williams, who contributed his 19th double-double of the season (25 points, 12 rebounds) and was named the NIT’s most outstanding player.
The victory allowed TCU to double its win total over last year’s 12-21 campaign and secured a storybook conclusion to the college careers of four seniors whose roots to the program trace back to the Frogs’ 0-18 record against Big 12 opponents during conference play in the 2013-14 season.
That is why guard Brandon Parrish, a senior from Arlington Seguin, put a bear hug on the NIT trophy shortly after it was presented and declared, “I’m not letting go of this” as he took part in TCU’s postgame celebration.
Parrish’s eyes welled with tears as he attempted to put the significance of the title in perspective for himself and his teammates.
“This trophy is the epitome of our careers,” Parrish said. “There were so many times that people said that we would never be able to do it; that the guys on our team weren’t good enough; our program wasn’t good enough.
“Just the fact that we can silence all the doubters today, it’s a dream come true.”
Under Dixon, a former TCU player who took the job last March after 13 seasons at Pittsburgh, the Frogs have broken through multiple program glass ceilings. TCU secured its first 20-win season in 12 years and its first victory over the nation’s top-ranked team, an 85-82 triumph over then-No. 1 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament on March 9.
But the final bow came Thursday in New York, with the Frogs seizing control from the outset to secure an NIT title that capped TCU’s most successful season in the Big 12 era. Only once in school history, when the Frogs won 27 games in 1997-98 under former coach Billy Tubbs, has TCU won more than the 24 games it won this season under Dixon.
TCU made that happen Thursday by racing to a 16-1 lead in the first five minutes before Ben Lammers made Georgia Tech’s first field goal at the 14:56 mark. The Frogs never trailed while building multiple double-digit leads on the way to the title. Point guard Alex Robinson also added a double-double to the festivities with 10 points and 11 assists.
“To be standing here in Madison Square Garden as the NIT champion is pretty special. It feels so awesome,” said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte. “That’s the expectation that you have when you hire Jamie Dixon, to bring championship basketball to TCU. He wanted it more than anybody. Today, you see the adulation and the tears from people. It’s really a special moment.”
TCU’s first 20-point lead came with 6:47 to play on Williams’ steal and breakaway dunk to make it 69-49. TCU built the lead to 30 on Desmond Bane’s layup to make it 79-49 with 2:23 left. Both baskets were part of a 19-0 run by the Frogs to add an exclamation point to the second-half proceedings. The 32-point final margin was TCU’s biggest of the night.
After Tech missed its first six shots from the field, the Yellow Jackets began finding the range and cut the gap to six points, 21-15, with a 10-0 surge. TCU’s J.D. Miller answered that run at the 6:55 mark with a three-point play, followed by a Robinson layup, to recapture the Frogs’ double-digit cushion.
They would keep it, with rare exception, the rest of the night on an evening when TCU won the battle of the boards 44-30 on the way to winning an NIT title.
“You have to take steps,” Dixon said, sharing his philosophy of program building. “And this is a huge step. I wanted our players to be proud of our program. I wanted our school to be proud of our program. And that’s what I came to do. I thought I could be the guy to do it. I thought I had the background.”
At the end of the night, TCU also had the trophy on a night when the Frogs were clearly motivated from the opening tip.
“This is huge for us,” Williams said. “I think people are starting to realize that our basketball team is on the map, certainly by winning this tournament.”
GEORGIA TECH (21-16): Stephens 2-8 0-2 5, Lammers 1-11 6-6 8, Heath 0-1 0-0 0, Heyward 1-3 0-0 3, Okogie 4-12 3-5 12, Rowland 0-0 0-0 0, McCormick 1-1 0-0 3, Ogbonda 3-3 0-2 6, Moore 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-2 0-0 0, Jackson 8-14 1-2 19, Medlock 0-0 0-0 0, Price 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 10-17 56.
TCU (24-15): Miller 4-11 1-1 9, Brodziansky 8-15 2-2 18, K.Williams 8-14 7-8 25, Bane 4-7 0-0 9, Robinson 4-10 2-3 10, Washburn 0-0 1-2 1, Sottile 0-1 0-0 0, Shepherd 2-3 0-0 4, Dry 1-1 0-0 3, J.Parrish 1-1 0-0 2, B.Parrish 2-2 0-0 4, M.Williams 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 35-68 13-16 88.
Halftime—TCU 38-27. 3-Point Goals—Georgia Tech 6-13 (Jackson 2-3, McCormick 1-1, Okogie 1-1, Heyward 1-3, Stephens 1-5), TCU 5-15 (K.Williams 2-5, Dry 1-1, Bane 1-2, M.Williams 1-3, Miller 0-2, Robinson 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Georgia Tech 26 (Lammers 7), TCU 37 (K.Williams 12). Assists—Georgia Tech 12 (Heath 4), TCU 17 (Robinson 11). Total Fouls—Georgia Tech 17, TCU 16.
- First trip to a championship game in any postseason tournament
- First 20-win season since 2004-05
- Most wins in any season since school-record 27 in 1997-98
- First win over No. 1-ranked team (Kansas on March 9)
- First road win over Texas in 30 years
- First season sweep of Texas in 30 years
- First trip to semifinals of Big 12 tournament
- First win over Iowa State in 20 years
Kenrich Williams, TCU (Most Outstanding Player)
Vlad Brodziansky, TCU
Alex Robinson, TCU
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech
Tadric Jackson, Georgia Tech