GREENSBORO, N.C. — Moments before boarding a plane back to their Atlanta home, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets late Sunday afternoon crammed into a ballroom inside their hotel to watch and see where their basketball-playing fate this week will be.
With great applause the Yellow Jackets welcomed the announcement that Milwaukee, Wis., will be their next destination, this time for the first round of the NCAA tournament. There, they will be a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Regional and take on seventh-seed Oklahoma State (22-10) on Friday.
The last time Georgia Tech opened a round in Milwaukee, it advanced to the national championship game in 2004.
“It’s a great accomplishment for these (players),” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. “They played hard all year, and we defended well, lost some really tough games. But it’s a nice reward for them, and now let’s see what we can do with this opportunity we’ve been given.”
The announcement proved quite timely for Georgia Tech, which was just hours removed from having suffered an emotional 65-61 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament title game at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“Slowly but surely, as the night goes on, (the loss) is going to be an after-thought because we’ve got to start getting ready for our first-round game,” said junior forward Gani Lawal, who is making his first trip to the NCAA tournament. “It still stings a little bit, but just take this night to mourn a little bit and then start getting ready for Friday.”
The preparations will begin immediately, Hewitt said.
As soon as the team was to arrive to campus Sunday night, he expected to go into his office and look at file tape the team has compiled on Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys, who finished the regular season seventh in the Big 12, already own banner wins this season over national tournament top-seed Kansas, as well as Kansas State. Outside of that fact, and the strong athletic play of big guard James Anderson, there’s very little the Yellow Jackets admitted they knew about Oklahoma State.
“He’s primarily a wing guy, but he can post up,” Lawal said of the 6-foot-6 Anderson. “A big player, he’s got good size on him,” Lawal said.
The two played together before college when they were first named McDonald’s All-Americans. Anderson averaged 22.6 points per game this season.
Oklahoma State will be making its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. The Yellow Jackets return for the first time since 2007, when they lost in the first round to UNLV in Chicago. Seniors Zachery Peacock and D’Andre Bell were on the team that year.
“I didn’t imagine it would take three years (to get back), but it makes me appreciate this that much more,” Peacock said. “It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully we can capitalize on this opportunity that we do have.”