NEW YORK — Georgia Tech was picked to finish next-to-last in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll, and Yellow Jackets forward Josh Okogie received just one vote for Rookie of the Year.
Now they will be playing for the NIT championship.
Led by Okogie’s 22 points, the Yellow Jackets won their first NIT semifinal in 46 years, knocking out Cal State-Bakersfield in a 76-61 wire-to-wire win on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Georgia Tech (21-15) faces TCU (23-15) in the Thursday final. The Horned Frogs beat Central Florida 68-53 in the second semifinal.
Okogie is on a hot streak in the tournament, leading all players with a 21.7 average in four games. He was named to the ACC’s All-Rookie team at the end of the regular season.
“(Okogie) has been terrific all year,” Yellow Jackets coach Josh Pastner said. “His work ethic is just awesome and he’s just gotten better and better and better.
““He’s playing the best basketball of the year right now and we’re very fortunate for that.”
CSU-Bakersfield (25-10), making its first trip to the Garden, was allowing an average of 68 points in its three previous NIT games.
The Roadrunners are one of the nation’s most effective teams at extracting turnovers, but the Yellow Jackets weren’t fazed by their pressure. They turned the ball over a season-low seven times.
“They (Georgia Tech) just played well tonight,” CSU-Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes said. “They spread us out. They took care of the basketball.
“They have been playing well down the stretch, just like we were and tonight was their game. They are a good enough team that we couldn’t turn it around.”
Ben Lammers, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, registered 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots and Quinton Stephens tossed in 13 points for the Yellow Jackets, who outscored the Roadrunners 34-24 in the paint.
Dedrick Basile topped CSU-Bakersfield with 18 points.
The Yellow Jackets maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half.
Under the guidance of Pastner, the ACC Coach of the Year in his first season, Georgia Tech posted signature wins over North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame and Syracuse — teams ranked in the Top 25. The Yellow Jackets went 8-10 in the ACC, finishing 12th out of the 16 teams.
“For us to be playing so far into the season is a miracle. We took over a situation where it was a major rebuild,” Pastner said. “This is important for our program.”
A 13-3 run pushed Georgia Tech’s lead to 55-37 with 11:49 to play. Okogie contributed eight of those points.
Tadric Jackson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Georgia Tech a 36-26 edge.
The Yellow Jackets took their biggest lead at 29-11 after a 3-pointer in the corner from Stephens.
Okogie was effective getting to the rim in the first half. He scored 10 points, going 6 of 8 from the line. Georgia Tech was 7 of 11 from the stripe. CSU-Bakersfield was able to get there only once in the first half.
NOTES: CSU-Bakersfield was ranked 13th in the nation in scoring defense and 14th in steals. … CSU-Bakersfield competed as an NCAA Division II independent from 2007 to 2013. … The Roadrunners won the Western Athletic Conference tournament in 2016 and the regular-season title this season. … The Roadrunners became the first eighth-seeded team in the NIT to advance to the semifinals. … Georgia Tech last made it to the NIT semifinals in 1971 when it defeated St. Bonaventure before losing to North Carolina in the final. … Georgia Tech G Josh Okogie is only the fourth freshman in team history to score 500 points. … CSU-Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes is the only player in the Southeastern Conference to win the Player of the Year (1988) and Coach of the Year (2001), both at Ole Miss.