Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics.
By David Cordova
The end of March is here and it is now time for the biggest event of all: the NCAA Final Four. That is, for those that made it to the NCAA Tournament. For those that didn’t, there’s only one other alternative, the National Invitational Tournament, more commonly known as the NIT.
The NIT, which is played at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, is an event in which teams compete for another form of a national championship. In last night’s games, Georgia Tech executed their game plan against Cal State-Bakersfield and TCU steamrolled through UCF, setting up the championship matchup for tomorrow night at 8 PM.
Georgia Tech 76, Cal State-Bakersfield 61
Early in the game, the Yellow Jackets came out in attack mode, running off to a 4-0 lead with 17:41 to go after baskets by junior Ben Lammers and freshman Josh Okogie. On the other end, the Roadrunners were paced by senior Jaylin Airington’s five points that brought them to within 8-5, with 15:26 to go in the half.
The reason that Cal State-Bakersfield was able to stay so close in the game was because of Georgia Tech’s five turnovers early in the half, as the Roadrunners threatened most of the way. The Yellow Jackets continued to go to work inside the basket, as they led 16-11, with 10:23 to go. Later on in the half, they would go up to a seven-point lead, 22-15, with 8:03 left in the half, after a three-pointer by Quinton Stephens.
On defense, the Yellow Jackets were superb, but on offense, they made careless mistakes although they led for the majority of the half and the Roadrunners capitalized on that with ten points off of turnovers. But in the low post, they ended up with twenty rebounds. Georgia Tech would go to the half leading by ten, 36-26, off of a buzzer-beating three by junior Tadric Jackson. Although they trailed, Cal-State Bakersfield shot 48% from the field, while Georgia Tech shot 38% in the half.
As the second half went on, the Yellow Jackets continued to control the lead, raising it to 40-28, with 17:37, after two free throws by Stephens. But on the other end, the Roadrunners would answer, thanks in part to two three-pointers by senior Dedrick Basile, which put them within eight, 42-34, with 15:44 to go. But behind freshman Josh Okologie, the Yellow Jackets would go on a 15-3 run and would lead by eighteen, 55-37, with 11:49 to go.
Cal State Bakersfield played tough in the first half, but the second half was a different story, as they shot around 30% throughout and Georgia Tech capitalized on that, leading by nineteen, 69-50, with 5:18 to go in the game. The Yellow Jackets would never relinquish the lead as they would go on to punch their ticket to their second NIT title game appearance in school history, and the first NIT championship game appearance since 1971, when they played North Carolina and lost, 84-66.
Okogie led Georgia Tech with 22 points and nine rebounds, Lammers added 15 points and 11 rebounds and Stephens added 13 points and nine rebounds. For Cal State-Bakersfield, Basile led with 18 points and Airington added 12 points in the loss.
TCU 68, UCF 53
In the beginning of the game, both teams started off strong, but then UCF went off to the races with a 10-4 lead, with 15:44 left in the first half, after baskets by junior A.J. Davis, senior Matt Williams and sophomore Tacko Fall.
TCU would counter with a 9-6 run to to get within three, 16-13, with 11:41 to go, after a three-pointer by senior Michael Williams. But the Knights’ size and their three-point shooting, helped them get to a nine-point lead, 24-15 lead, with 8:36 to go after two consecutive three-pointers by seniors Tank Efiyanyi and Nick Banyard.
The Knights got most of their points off of layups and three-pointers, while the Horned Frogs struggled to make baskets, particularly in the paint, due to the presence of Fall, who is 7-foot-6. Another thing that hurt them was their shooting woes from three-point line, as they shot 14% from there for most of the half and were unable to get to the free-throw line.
But in the later stages of the half, TCU would get back into the game, going on a 14-5 run to tie the score at 29-29, after a three-pointer by senior Brandon Parrish, with 1:48 to go. But the half would finish with UCF leading by two, 31-29.
TCU started off the second half with five consecutive points from junior Kenrich Williams, as they went on a 7-0 run to take a five-point lead, 36-31, with 18:35 left. The Horned Frogs then extended their lead to ten, 44-34, with 15:44 to go, as baskets by sophomore J.D. Miller and freshman Desmond Bane.
Meanwhile, UCF struggled to get their shot off in the beginning of the second half, and their counterparts would take advantage of their weakness throughout this stretch. Then the Knights would go on an 11-8 run to cut their deficit to within seven, 52-45, with 8:57 to go, following a dunk by junior A.J. Davis.
UCF would get as close to nine, 59-50, with 3:21 to go, but the Horned Frogs would eventually raise their lead to thrirteen, 65-52, with 1:42 left and would not relinquish the lead, as they would go on to make their first NIT appearance in school history.
Junior Vladimir Brodziansky led TCU with 18 points and nine rebounds and Kenrich Williams added 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. For UCF, Williams led with 15 points and sophomore B.J. Taylor added 10 points in the loss.