Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Georgia Tech advances to NIT semis in another big step for team, Pastner

I seldom pay attention to the NIT. You seldom pay attention to the NIT. Most players in the NIT seldom pay attention to the NIT because more often than not they're thinking, "I'd rather be in the NCAA tournament or taking the day off."

But that hasn't been the case with Georgia Tech, which has done anything but the expected this season. After going 8-10 in the ACC in a year when many, including their new head coach, wondered if they would win a conference game, the Jackets have used the NIT as validation of their first-season turnaround under Josh Pastner.

Tech's 74-66 win over Mississippi in Oxford Monday night enabled the Jackets to advance to the semifinals of the NIT next weekend in Madison Square Garden in New York. Yes, they're still playing. The NIT is not the NCAA but it is a stage, and a stage Pastner and Tech deserve to be on. The Jackets improved to 20-15 overall and won a big road game in a season during which they had gone only 2-10 in opponents' arenas.

The same team that struggled to defeat Shorter College in overtime in an exhibition opener looked like the more veteran and poised group down the stretch at Ole Miss. The Jackets worked their half-court offense for open shots, drew fouls and made a couple of key stops in final few minutes, including Corey Heyward taking a charge after the Rebels had cut the lead to four points.

There are only two ACC teams left in the postseason. North Carolina is in the Sweet Sixteen. Georgia Tech is in the "Little Final Four," if you will. And the Jackets have elevated the NIT's level of interest.

EARLIER: Newness of Kirby Smart has worn off at Georgia; now it's about winning

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.