By Everett Merrill, The Sports Xchange
NEW YORK — Jamie Dixon didn’t consider it a rebuilding job when he took the coaching position at Texas Christian, a program that had averaged just two conference wins as a member of the Big 12.
He felt he could win in his first season at his alma mater.
And the Horned Frogs proved him right with the school’s first NIT championship after knocking off Georgia Tech in an 88-56, wire-to-wire decision on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
It matched the largest margin of victory in an NIT final. Bradley defeated New Mexico 86-54 in the 1964 championship.
Kenrich Williams, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, recorded his 19th double-double and second straight of the tournament for TCU (24-15), scoring 25 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. He had four of his team’s 12 steals. Vlad Brodziansky netted 18 points for the Horned Frogs (24-15).
Tadric Jackson topped Georgia Tech (21-16) with 19 points. Freshman Josh Okogie, who entered the final as the tournament’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game, was limited to 12 points by a swarming Horned Frogs defense.
TCU’s front line, particularly forwards Williams and Brodziansky, overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets by scoring 44 points in the paint and 21 second-chance points. The Horned Frogs claimed 26 points off 16 turnovers in their most dominant performance of the season.
TCU, 8-64 in league play in its first four years as a member of the Big 12, was picked to finish last in the preseason poll. But the Horned Frogs finished with six conference wins.
“I thought we could win right away with this team, especially the seniors,” said Dixon, who came to the Fort Worth campus after 13 successful seasons at Pitt. “My thing has always been there’s no limitation. We can win.
“So, in some sense, I have higher expectations, and so this is dramatic for our program. They came here to build a program, and maybe it took a little longer than they thought. But they did and now they can feel good about their four years here.”
The Horned Frogs put together two monstrous runs to pull away with the game — one at the start, the other at the finish.
A 19-0 blitz increased the TCU lead to 79-49 with 2:23 remaining. Georgia Tech went 9:46 without a basket.
Williams was a matchup problem all night for the Yellow Jackets with his ability to hit long-range jumpers and get to the rim through traffic. He missed all of last season and the first month of this season with a knee injury.
He assumed more of a scoring role after Jaylen Fisher was lost for the season with a broken wrist in a 66-59 victory over Fresno State in the NIT opener.
“(Williams is) just finding his legs, getting better,” Dixon said of his junior guard. “We knew he was a good player; but, as the year went on, we found better ways to use him.
“He’s too good an athlete and too good a decision maker not to use him, and he’s getting better. I can’t wait to work with him this summer.
“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.”
TCU upped its lead to 56-39 with a 7-0 run with 14:32 left. Georgia Tech went 8:32 without a basket.
The Horned Frogs scored 12 points off seven Georgia Tech turnovers and led 38-27 at halftime. The Yellow Jackets made just 9 of 28 shots (32 percent) and trailed by double digits for most of the half.
A 10-0 spurt from the Yellow Jackets sliced the TCU lead to 21-15.
TCU opened with a 20-3 run, six points coming from Brodziansky and Miller and 12 coming in the paint. The Yellow Jackets missed their first six shots.
“They jumped on us early,” said Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner, the ACC Coach of the Year. “We dug ourselves in a hole and we were trying to dig out of it the whole game.”