Georgia Tech’s Pastner calls 21-win season ‘miraculous’
ATLANTA (AP) — Josh Pastner somehow found a way to turn Georgia Tech’s dire preseason outlook into what he called a “miraculous” finish in the NIT championship game.
Pastner, the first-year coach, inherited what appeared to be a talent-thin roster. Some asked if the Yellow Jackets would win any Atlantic Coast Conference games.
Instead, Georgia Tech (21-16) beat three Top 25 teams before falling to TCU 88-56 on Thursday night in the NIT final.
Pastner’s team couldn’t overcome a poor start in the lopsided loss to the Horned Frogs, but he wasn’t about to let that sour the feel-good story of the season.
“I’m so happy for these guys,” Pastner said. “Obviously this is not the ending we wanted. But I’m not going to allow it to steal the joy in the type of season we had and the amount of overachievement we’ve had.”
Season highlights included upsets of No. 6 Florida State, No. 9 North Carolina and No. 14 Notre Dame.
“From where we started to where we are now, these guys ... have been just unbelievable and I promise you, like if you’ve seen us in the beginning, and to be playing in this final game, it’s miraculous,” Pastner said.
Freshman forward Josh Okogie was a difference-maker for the Yellow Jackets. He averaged 21.8 points in Georgia Tech’s four NIT wins. For the season, Okogie led the Yellow Jackets with his average of 16.1 points.
Junior center Ben Lammers added 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
The two front-line starters are expected to return next season and will give the Yellow Jackets a strong foundation.
Senior Quinton Stephens said players “stuck together” to finish 8-10 in ACC games, surpassing expectations.
“We stayed with the way we need to play,” Stephens said. “We all embraced as a team. We knew it was bigger than us and we knew bigger things were coming and this is only the beginning.”
Georgia Tech also will lose senior starting point guard Josh Heath.
“These guys have just been crazy good, and these seniors have been phenomenal,” Pastner said. “They have left a lasting legacy. These underclassmen ... can build and take on what these guys have left and now we’ve got to build as we continue to move forward.”
Georgia Tech is expected to return its top three scorers including guard Tadric Jackson, who averaged 12.1 points.