Georgia Tech got within 56-51 on a pair of Jose Alvarado free throws with 4:24 left to play. However, the Cougars answered with a 7-0 run that included a Nate Hinton three-point play to separate.
Houston led 43-32 at halftime.
Georgia Tech finished 10th in the ACC last year, its highest finish since tying for ninth in 2013, and was picked to finish 12th in the preseason poll. After a 4-2 start to the season, it dropped three straight before getting back into the win column with Sunday's 74-60 win over Boise State.
Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner pointed to a 13-4 Houston run near the end of the first half as a key sequence in the game. The Yellow Jackets had cut the Cougars’ lead to 30-26 on Usher’s 12-foot jumper with 3:32 left until the break. However, DeJon Jarreau hit back-to-back runners and Grimes scored nine straight Houston points to stretch it back to a 43-30 advantage.
“That’s when Houston got some separation,” Pastner said. “They hit some tough shots in some key times. We defended for the most part, other than that stretch in the last four minutes of the first half, but I was proud of our guys. We’ve gotten better and we will continue to get better.”
It was Houston’s first win over Georgia Tech in four tries. The teams last met on March 16, 2016, in the first round of the NIT. They also met in Honolulu in 1988, when Georgia Tech came away with an 87-78 win in the opening round of the Rainbow Classic.
Georgia Tech will try for third place when it meets Hawaii Wednesday.
Houston plays No. 22 Washington for the tournament championship.