You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Georgia Tech wins again and rolls into NIT finals


The team that was taken to overtime by Shorter, the team that struggled to beat North Carolina (A&T version, not Chapel Hill) in its final tuneup before what was anticipated to be a series of ACC dismemberings, is one game from a championship.

OK, once again: It’s the NIT. It’s not the NCAA. Go ahead with the jokes.

What does the NIT champion scream? We’re No. 69!

You know what? Jokes don’t apply in this case.

What Georgia Tech is doing this season is something that Indiana and Syracuse and certainly Georgia couldn’t do the past two weeks. The Yellow Jackets are finishing a season the way coaches want their players to finish, not pouting after being excluded from the NCAA field.

“A remarkable journey,” coach Josh Pastner called it. “It’s been a great lesson for me to see it all unfold.”

Another win. That makes 21 for the Jackets, and in this one they never trailed. Tech led Cal State Bakersfield by as much as 19 points and rolled to a relatively easy 76-61 win in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

So for only the third time in history, Tech’s basketball program will play for a postseason championship. The Jackets will face Texas Christian for the NIT Thursday night after the Horned Frogs 68-53 win over Central Florida. The Jackets reached the NCAA title game in 2004 but lost to Connecticut 82-73. They also lost to North Carolina for the 1971 NIT championship.

This shouldn’t be about comparing the NIT with the NCAA. It’s about comparing a team’s achievements against expectations, and Tech has surpassed all projections.

“There’s four college basketball games left — ours and three in the NCAA tournament,” Pastner said. “So for us to be playing in one of those games on national television, it’s a credit to the young men. From where we started to where we are right now, to see how this has unfolded, we’re excited.”

Madison Square Garden is referred to as the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Maybe so. But not many of the world’s people showed up. There were less than 5,000 people in the building for Tech’s game.

Still, playing on this stage and in this building could have unnerved Tech players, but it didn’t. The Jackets committed only seven turnovers and 13 fouls while holding Bakersfield to 35 percent shooting.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a team better. Tech was well-prepared for its opponent’s pressure defense in part because of a suggestion by assistant coach Eric Reveno that players change up their usual routine of going from stretching to passing drills in the past few practices.

“We went straight to five-on-five, full press, going nuts, just to simulate how it would be to start the game,” Pastner said.

“We don’t usually do that,” forward Quinton Stephens said. “I thought that was a pretty cool way to prepare. They come right at you, but we attacked them first.”

The Garden hosted South Carolina’s coronation as an NCAA Final Four team. Then again, it’s also home to the New York Knicks. So if one believes in mojo, Tech could have gone in either direction. But the Jackets were the better team throughout.

They led by 10 points at halftime 36-26 after a running 3-point shot by Tadric Jackson at the buzzer. The lead could’ve been bigger if not for at least four missed layups. (Pastner: “We’ve missed enough layups this year to last not only my lifetime but 10 more.”)

Consecutive baskets by Okogie punctuated a 13-3 run early in the second half, when the lead ballooned to 18 points at 55-37. From that point, the only thing that would derail a trip to the final would be a meltdown. That didn’t happen.

Tech is more than happy to be here. The NIT’s early-round exits include Syracuse, Indiana, California, Houston, Clemson, Ole Miss and, yes, Georgia. So the marquee of this lesser Final Four read like a way-off-Broadway production. Georgia Tech vs. Cal State Bakersfield; TCU vs. Central Florida.

“Some teams aren’t as excited to play, and we’ve made the most of that,” Stephens said. “We realize it’s bigger than just us and this team. We’re trying to get exposure for Georgia Tech and this program.”

Along the way, Okogie has emerged as a star. In four NIT games, against Indiana, Belmont, Ole Miss and Bakersfield, he put up point totals of 24, 15, 26 and 22, respectively. He also had nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks Tuesday.

“He’s just gotten better and better, and he’s playing the best basketball of his freshman year right now,” Pastner said.

Okogie said winning the NIT title “would say a lot about this team and where we came from. Ever since the summer, we worked our butts off day in and day out. Playing for a championship shows how that pays off in the end.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Georgia Tech target M.J. Walker sets announcement date
Georgia Tech target M.J. Walker sets announcement date

Jonesboro High guard M.J. Walker, the five-star prospect and Georgia Tech target, will announce Wednesday where he will attend college. Walker, a McDonald’s All-American, is expected to be choosing between Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and UCLA. He will make the announcement at 11 a.m. at the Jonesboro High gym. Walker&rsquo...
Atlanta United loaning 3 to Charleston for 2 games
Atlanta United loaning 3 to Charleston for 2 games

Atlanta United will loan goalkeeper Alex Tamabakis, centerhalf Miles Robinson and midfielder Chris Goslin to Charleston, its USL affiliate, for its two games this week. The Battery will play at Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania on Thursday, and at New York Bed Bulls II on Sunday. None of the three players being loaned have appeared for Atlanta United...
Some of NFL’s biggest heads join concussion debate

Before taking early retirement, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson towers over and toys with a Green Bay defender.
Hawks ask fans for GM candidates and, well … (‘blond Rodman’?)
Hawks ask fans for GM candidates and, well … (‘blond Rodman’?)

Hawks principal owner Tony Ressler (far left) and partner Grant Hill (right) interview Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Kevin Riley (center) for the general manager’s job.
ESPN’s Barnwell: Falcons won the NFC South offseason, too
ESPN’s Barnwell: Falcons won the NFC South offseason, too

Takkarist McKinley: Worth the cost? (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini) Last week we offered a Football Outsiders projection that had the Atlanta Falcons going 9-7 and finishing second in the NFC South.
More Stories