The final score of the NIT championship game was 88-56 in TCU’s favor. By margin of defeat, it was Tech’s second worst loss of the season and tied an NIT championship game record for margin of victory.
Still, the Yellow Jackets made inroads into the margin at various points, gaining the better of play at times. They were not able, however, to sustain momentum, paving the way to defeat. A look at four junctures of the game when Tech had a chance to challenge the Horned Frogs but came up short.
1. Already down 10-1, with TCU having scored on five of its first six possessions, Georgia Tech appeared to have gotten a stop when J.D. Miller shot an airballed 3-pointer from the corner. Forward Quinton Stephens was in position to gain possession, but he couldn’t secure the ball, and it went out of bounds. It appeared that he was being restrained by a TCU player from behind. With the second chance, Miller scored on a dunk off the inbounds pass to make the score 12-1.
The failure to protect the defensive glass was a harbinger. Tech, which had a defensive rebounding percentage of 71 percent in ACC play, secured only 53 percent of TCU misses.
TCU’s 21 second-chance points were the most scored against Tech all season.
“They did a nice job on second shots,” coach Josh Pastner said. “And that really hurt us, the second shots there, they hurt us in the paint there. We just weren’t as effective.”
2. With Ben Lammers out with foul trouble, the Jackets made a charge to get back in the game, keyed by Sylvester Ogbonda’s strong post defense of TCU forward Vladimir Brodziansky in place of Lammers.
Transition dunks by Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie and a 3-pointer by Jackson helped close the gap to 21-15, bringing Tech supporters to their feet and filling Madison Square Garden with energy. However, defended well, Tech scored four points in the next six possessions, taking air out of the balloon.
- Ogbonda was called for an illegal screen, leading to Lammers coming back in the game.
- Okogie hit a 3-pointer.
- Inbounding with five seconds on the shot clock, Lammers had to take a difficult shot as the clock expired and missed.
- Showing high individual effort with two putbacks of his own misses to draw a foul, Okogie made one of two free throws.
- Lammers missed a jump shot.
- Stephens missed on an awkward layup attempt, and then Jackson was called for a foul on the rebound.
TCU scored 10 points in that stretch, four from the free-throw line as Tech had difficulties defending without fouling. Reducing a 17-point lead to six and with the chance to put more pressure on TCU, Tech let the gap return to 12.
Lammers acknowledged that playing with foul trouble messed with his rhythm. He also joked that Tech should have worn gold uniforms instead of navy. He has been a proponent of the gold, believing Tech plays and looks better in that color.
“When I saw we were doing blue jerseys, it was in the back of my mind (to ask to change), but it’s one of those things (where) you don’t want to say it because that would be bad luck or something,” he said. “Turns out it didn’t matter.”
3. Down 38-25 with less than 30 seconds to play in the half, Tech got two free throws from Lammers off some of the best ball movement in the half, as Okogie drove and left the ball for Lammers, who was fouled going to the basket. The Jackets then got a break when TCU, holding for the last shot, point guard Alex Robinson lost control of the ball at midcourt.
Stephens was first to the ball with seconds to play and dribbled upcourt. A 3-pointer would give the Jackets momentum going into the half and take the lead back under doulbe digits.
He had a clear look at an NBA-range 3-pointer, but his shot was short. Tech has had its share of buzzer-beating 3-pointers – Jackson hit one Tuesday against Cal State Bakersfield – but it wasn’t the Jackets’ night. Stephens, who was 11-for-26 from 3-point range in the first four NIT games, finished the game 1-for-5 from 3-point range.
4. Lammers made two free throws after getting fouled trying to put down an alley oop, cutting the lead to 49-39 with 16:01 left in the second half. Tech again had the chance to put some pressure on TCU.
However, Robinson, the TCU point guard who was in control of the game most of the night (10 points, 11 assists, four steals), drove and kicked out to Kenrich Williams for an open 3-pointer. Lammers missed a tough shot. Then came a defining play of the night. Williams was unable to put down a dunk, and the ball shot straight up in the air, a true 50-50 ball. No Tech player got a body on Brodziansky, who threw down a vicious putback dunk, one of 12 offensive rebounds and two of the Horned Frogs’ 21 second-chance points.
After Pastner called timeout, Jackson missed a jump shot, and Robinson dropped in a jump shot off a ball screen, and the lead was back up to 17 with 14:32 to play, a margin and time that began to box in the Jackets.
“We made our runs, like I said, they would end up getting some tough shot or an and-one or a turnover for a jumper or something like that,” Stephens said. “It kind of deflates you, a little momentum shifter. I have to give it to them – they did make those plays. We made those plays against other teams.”