Detroit, MI - The nerves were there early for TCU Friday night as they tipped off their first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit against the Orange of Syracuse. And despite making a run to take a half time lead, they returned at the worst possible time.
The Frogs struggled with the zone most of the first half, seeing several layups miss and shots bothered by the size and length of the Orange, the nation’s biggest team. A pair of early threes by Kouat Noi and a Desmond Bane bomb opened things up, but it was 17 minutes into the half before Vladimir Brodziansky scored his first, and only, points of the first frame. TCU fell behind by as many as seven through the first 18 minutes, as they struggled to hit shots and were out-rebounded 19-14 by the Orange, including a five to one advantage on the offensive glass.
But despite the Frogs shooting 44% from the field and 60% from the line, they took a one point lead into the half, thanks to a crazy sequence of events. With 21 seconds remaining in the half, Desmond Bane went up and blocked an alley-oop attempt, leading to a Kenrich Williams oop on the other end. It was a big time momentum swinger:
That was followed by Kenrich Williams drawing a foul on an over the back call, leading to another layup, and giving the Frogs a one point lead at the break, 28-27.
Vlad scored the Frogs first points of the second half on a beautiful feed from Robinson, and followed with a second layup one possession later. But from there, things got sloppy. The Frogs, who had just five turnovers in the first half, had four in the first nine minutes of the second, and went over ninen minutes without a made field goal as they saw their lead evaporate. TCU went without a field goal from the 14:16 mark until 5:01 remaining, a stretch that saw them hit seven free throws and nothing more. Remarkably, they never trailed by more than four in that stretch, but the frustration was clear by the players, who felt the pressure of the moment as the offense waned.
TCU finally found a way to get their offense going, and did so playing through senior forward Vladimir Brodziansky, as he scored nine straight points over a two and a half minute stretch to keep the Frogs close. But for every strike by TCU, there was an answer by Oshae Brissett. After Marek Dolezaj carried Cuse through the first 20 minutes (13 points on 5-7 shooting, four rebounds), Brissett took over in the second. After starting 1-7, the forward that had dominated Arizona State two nights prior found some luck, connecting on a trio of big buckets down the stretch. And when Dolezaj fouled out with over six minutes remaining, it looked like TCU had the break they needed. But, the shooting let the Frogs down, as they couldn’t consistently hit shots, while the tired Orange knocked the down when they needed to.
The Frogs missed all eight of their three point attempts in the second half, making just eight of their 23 attempts over the final 20 minutes. Syracuse wasn’t much better, shooting just 36.8% from the field overall and 21% from three. But they made shots when they needed to, especially Brissett, and TCU didn’t. Every player for the Frogs had a minus differential.
Jamie Dixon expected more from his team, but still found perspective when it came to his seniors. “We didn’t play as well as I thought we would. We simply didn’t get it done. That is on us. But I can’t tell them how proud I am of what they have done for this program.”
Brissett and Dolezaj led the Orange with 15 and 17 points respectively. They were the only Syracuse players in double figures, as only four players total hit for more than ten on the night. Fittingly, the Frogs were led in scoring by their two seniors, Kenny Hustle’s 14 and Vlad’s 13. Unfortunately for TCU, they were the only two players that had anything going, as Noi managed just one point after the first eight minutes, Alex Robinson was 3-10, and Desmond Bane managed just five points on just seven shot attempts. The Frogs were out-rebounded 37-34 and lost the turnover battle 13-7. It was an ugly game for an offense that had been one of the best in the country, but sputtered down the stretch against three really good defenses - Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Syracuse.
Sadly, this ends the careers of two of the best to play in Fort Worth, as Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky have played their last game in purple. It’s a disappointing way for them to exit TCU, but it’s important to reflect on the part both have played in laying the foundation for future success. They were both heartbroken after the loss, as you would expect.
“It’s tough. We didn’t want to be content just getting to the tournament. We wanted to make a run. It’s going to be tough for a while for me.” - Kenrich Williams
”I just didn’t want my career to be over, so I was just trying to help my team win.” - Vladimir Brodziansky
The Frogs were one of the very worst teams in all of the Power Five, and making the Tournament just two years into Jamie Dixon’s tenure is a huge step in the right direction. This program has plenty to build on going forward, and while it’s certainly fair to be frustrated by Friday night’s result, frankly, TCU overachieved in year two.
The expectations will be raised when the next season comes around, but for now, enjoy a special season and the last ride of Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky.