Georgia Tech and TCU set for NIT title game

TCU vs. University of Central Florida

NEW YORK (AP) — Josh Pastner and Jamie Dixon both got their wish.

Both coaches wanted one more opportunity to teach their teams.

Georgia Tech and Texas Christian will meet for the NIT title on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

But in order to win the title, Pastner and Dixon will have to go head-to-head.

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“We love coaching these guys all year long and we just want two more days with them, so they gave us that. We’ll look forward to getting ready for Georgia Tech,” Dixon said after TCU’s 68-53 win over Central Florida in the second NIT semifinal game Tuesday night.

“We don’t want the season to end. I think that might be more the motivation than anything,” Dixon said. “These guys are practicing hard. You talk to my assistants, you can’t believe how much energy they have brought to (each and every) practice. I think more than anything, we don’t want the season to end.

“They love going to practice and they love being around each other, and the celebration in the locker room was, you could just see the joy. We’re going to enjoy it for about a couple more hours and then we’ll get ready for Georgia Tech.”

That Georgia Tech and TCU have advanced to the NIT title game is a testament to the coaching jobs Pastner and Dixon did in their first year with their new programs.

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Neither TCU nor Georgia Tech were expected to be competitive in 2016-17. Texas Christian was picked to finish last in the Big 12 preseason poll. Georgia Tech was picked 14th in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Instead, Georgia Tech went 21-15, and Texas Christian went 23-15.

“I’ve said it many times: It’s a modern miracle. I can remember like yesterday watching our first workouts. If you told me we’re playing on Thursday for the NIT championship, I would say you’re crazy,” Pastner said after Georgia Tech’s 76-61 win over Cal State Bakersfield in the first NIT semifinal Tuesday night.

“So it’s been a heck of a season, and as I said, it’s a great lesson for me that these guys, to see it all unfold, the power of team. That gets thrown in words a lot, team and chemistry.

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“But to really see it and how we have been able to beat teams that are more talented than we are, because that night we were the better team on different games throughout the season.”

Strong defense has lifted both teams. Entering Thursday night’s championship game, TCU has allowed 68 points per game and Georgia Tech has allowed 61.75 points per game in the NIT.

And on the offensive end, the Horned Frogs and Yellow Jackets have made progress. TCU has averaged 78.5 points per game during the NIT, while the Yellow Jackets have scored 74 points per game in the tournament.

“We’ve been an elite defensive team all year long,” Pastner said in a conference call on Wednesday.

“We are playing our best offense we have had all year long in the NIT. But we have been offensively challenged throughout the season. We have been an elite defensive team and that’s what we did, and if you look at our numbers, we’re in the top.

“I think five now in Ken Pom ratings in defensive efficiency. We’ve led the ACC in dribble percentage defense, and to be able to do that, you’ve got to be an elite defensive team.”