ATLANTA -- Marcus Georges-Hunt flashed that big smile of his when the news was received. For the first time in his decorated career at Georgia Tech, he would be participating in a postseason game.
"I was pretty excited to hear our names," Georges-Hunt said. "I was very excited, being as it's my first postseason in four years. There are some great teams in the NIT, so it should be fun."
And while it's not the big prize they had chased all season, receiving an invitation to play in the NIT was definitely a nice reward for Georges-Hunt and the other members of the Yellow Jackets basketball team.
"The way the brackets are (with the automatic qualifiers) there were only 40-something spots open, and we got one of those," Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. "There are a lot of good teams playing in the NIT that were hoping to play in the NCAAs. Now we've got to go out and compete."
Georgia Tech's opening opponent is Houston (22-9), which finished third in the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars won six of their final seven games and closed the regular season with wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut, who are in the NCAA field.
The game will be Wednesday at McCamish Pavilion.
"Houston is really good," Gregory said. "They led their league in scoring, they're very athletic and play fast. It's going to be a great test for us."
The Cougars are led by Rob Gray Jr., who comes off the bench and averages a conference-leading 16.3 points. Damyean Dotson (13.9) and Devonta Pollard (13.8) are also in double figures.
"They're a tough matchup," Gregory said. "They've been able to play big with great length inside, but they're also able to go small, so they have great flexibility."
This is the 24th time Georgia Tech has reached the postseason, the first since 2009-10 and the first in Gregory's five seasons. It marks the eighth trip to the NIT for the Yellow Jackets, who finished second in the tournament in 1971 -- back when only 25 teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Tech competed against a schedule that was ranked as the fourth-strongest in the nation by ESPN's BPI rankings and No. 21 by CBS Sports.com's RPI rankings. The Yellow Jackets have won six of their past eight games.
"To have 19 wins against that schedule is a good accomplishment for this program," Gregory said. "Now we can continue to make progress on the court and advance to the NIT. I'm thrilled we get to play another home game for our seniors."
The seniors have helped restore the concept of Georgia Tech again being the "Thrillerdome." Going into the second round of the ACC Tournament, Georgia Tech's previous seven games had been decided by a total of 24 points -- none more than six points -- and included dramatic final-second wins over Notre Dame and Clemson.
"We finished strong," Georges-Hunt said. "That last stretch, we did a great job and played our way into the NIT with winning close games and beating some pretty good teams."
Georges-Hunt, a third-team All-ACC selection, leads the team with 16.7 points and 82.2 percent at the line. He leads the team in assists (3.12) and has hit 45.1 percent from the field. He is also the team's best defensive player and might be asked to lock down Gray.
The other four seniors have all played a large role in the success. Guard Adam Smith averages 14.9 points and leads the ACC with 3.06 3-pointers per game. Nick Jacobs averages 10.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, and Charles Mitchell is just shy of averaging a double-double with 9.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. James White comes off the bench and is the team's No. 3 rebounder.
The winner of the Georgia Tech-Houston game will meet the winner between South Carolina (24-8) and High Point (21-10). South Carolina would host the second-round game if the Gamecocks win.