Georgia Tech squeezes into NIT field

Georgia Tech players celebrate after defeating Notre Dame 62-60 in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Georgia Tech players celebrate after defeating Notre Dame 62-60 in an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Georgia Tech’s season will extend at least one more game. The Yellow Jackets were placed into the NIT Sunday night and will play Indiana Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion at 9 p.m.

A most unlikely season will continue. Coach Josh Pastner’s first season began with humble expectations, then dramatically surged with upsets of VCU, North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame before receding at the end of the season with five losses in the past seven games to slide off the NCAA tournament bubble.

Having been given a chance to keep playing, Tech can conclude the season with a more positive feeling than its first-round loss to Pittsburgh in last week’s ACC Tournament. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tech was given a No. 6 seed in an eight-team quadrant headed by Syracuse. Indiana is a No. 3 seed.

“We’ll need to play, obviously, really, really well, but it’s a great opportunity for our program,” Pastner said. “One, it’s postseason. Two, it’s Indiana. Three, it’s a home game. Four, it’s national television. It’s huge for our program.”

Should Tech advance to the second round, it could face a potential rematch with rival Georgia. In the same quadrant of the 32-team bracket, the No. 2 seed Bulldogs will play No. 7 seed Belmont Wednesday in Athens. Tech lost to the Bulldogs 60-43 at McCamish Dec. 20 in one of the poorer games that the Jackets played this season.

The Jackets were among the final at-large teams to make it into the 32-team field as a No. 6. There was only one at-large team that had a lower seed, Valparaiso at No. 7. The other No. 7 seeds and the four No. 8 seeds received automatic bids by virtue of having finished first in their conference regular-season races but not winning their league title and not getting into the NCAA tournament as an at-large invitee.

“I thought we were going to be in, that we earned the right to get in, but it’s hard to know,” Pastner said.

Indiana (18-15) began its season with Final Four hopes, which seemed confirmed with wins over Kansas and North Carolina in the non-conference schedule. However, injuries hit Indiana hard, and the Hoosiers lost six of their final eight regular-season games and were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinal round.

It’s Tech’s second consecutive season with an NIT berth. The Jackets reached the quarterfinal round last year in what proved to be coach Brian Gregory’s final season.

A stroke of luck blessed the Jackets to gain a home game. While the Hoosiers are the higher seed and have the right to hold the game on their home court, Indiana declined. ESPNU, which broadcast the selection show, said that it was due to a renovation project of Assembly Hall. A tweet from Indiana beat writer Mike Miller of the Herald Times of Bloomington (Ind.) reported that the school passed because students will be on spring break.

After losing to Pittsburgh last Tuesday, Tech had Wednesday and Thursday off and then returned for practice Friday and Saturday.

Tickets are on sale for $15 and are available at the Tech website or by calling 1-888-832-4849.