Ga. Tech trips Terps; NIT invite still possible

ATLANTA — Here are five things we gleaned from Georgia Tech’s 78-68 home victory over Maryland on Wednesday night:

1. The Yellow Jackets’ big win can be attributed to sweet shooting and even sweeter ball movement

The final stats detail Georgia Tech’s advantages with bench points (29-21), rebounding (31-27), offensive rebounding (7-6), blocks (6-1) and turnovers. But the revealing keys to victory involve hot shooting from the field (26 of 51), stellar shooting from the charity stripe (Daniel Miller hit all 12 of his free throws) and the 22 assists against the Terps.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our guys,” said Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory, noting his team’s substantial turnaround from Sunday’s low-energy loss to Virginia. In terms of rebounding, taking care of the ball, shooting and sharing the ball, “this was was our best 40 minutes of basketball. I’m very, very pleased.”

The Yellow Jackets expertly handled the Terrapins’ full-court press, as well, quickly moving the ball from side to side (when trapped) and executing crisp diagonal passes to open up good angles to the basket. In many cases, the finishes included high-percentage dunks, whipping the McCamish Pavilion crowd of 6,692 into a frenzy.

Robert Carter Jr. led all scorers with 19 points (and 10 rebounds). Daniel Miller notched 16 points (on just two field goals) and nine boards. And reserve guard Brandon Reed racked up 17 points, five rebounds and four assists in just 21 minutes of action.

During a 10-0 Tech spurt in the first half, Reed buried back-to-back triples and then posited an easy dunk, vaulting the Jackets to a 24-17 lead.

2. Georgia Tech can finally dream of making the NIT tourney

At 15-12 overall (5-10 in league play), Tech isn’t a consideration for The Big Dance, minus a stunning title run in the ACC tournament.

But if the Jackets can stay above .500 and beat either N.C. State (Sunday at home) or Miami (next week on the road), it’ll go a long way toward securing an invite to the NIT — representing substantial progress for a program that essentially started from scratch when Gregory took over in 2011.

“We are getting better, we are making improvements,” said Gregory, noting his squad’s 5-5 record in the last 10 ACC games. “If you would have asked me after (Sunday’s loss to Virginia), it might have been ‘doomsday’; and after tonight, (I’m happy). We’re somewhere in between. We just need to get comfortable with who we are and where we’re going.”

These are the perks of playing in a powerhouse conference: The NIT selection committee would not pass on a chance to invite an emerging, modestly successful ACC member to the party.

3. Maryland’s Alex Len is a prime example of why parity doesn’t rule the NBA

This is what I loathe about pro basketball: NBADraft.net, one of the Web’s most reliable NBA-prospect sites, has Len (13 points, nine boards vs. Georgia Tech) tabbed at No. 8 overall in the June draft (Timberwolves).

From a financial standpoint, this is great news for Len and his Ukrainian family, should the sophomore choose to leave school this spring. But from a basketball perspective, most notably a Minnesota fan, it’s probably a lousy deal.

Empirically speaking, Len has the size (7-foot-1), athleticism and raw skill level of an NBA center. He moves swiftly and purposefully around the paint, he can nail an open 15-footer and he has the long arms of potentially dynamic shot-blocker.

And yet, after watching Len play against the Yellow Jackets (and defended by Daniel Miller), it’s also clear that he isn’t ready for big-time minutes at the pro level — short of the T-Wolves (theoretically) being ravaged by injuries.

In other words, how does Minnesota stand to make a sizable leap in the Western Conference standings next year, if a long-term project, like Len, is taking up valuable roster space in the short term? He may be a nice player down the road; but at this point, Len’s not a difference-maker — the type of impact talent lottery-bound teams should be collecting.

Obviously, this feeder-ground system isn’t Len’s fault. He just happens to be the muse for an ongoing rant that pops up every now and then.

It also doesn’t help when I cover Hawks games at Philips Arena … and count three or four “pro” players who should be developing their games in college — instead of needlessly rotting on a cold NBA bench.

4. Robert Carter Jr. may be the finest Antawn Jamison impersonator in America

For the Fox Sports South readers of 20 or younger, go to YouTube and find clips of Antawn Jamison during his stellar career at North Carolina or superb early days with the Golden State Warriors (Jamison and Kobe Bryant once scored 50 points in the same game).

In his prime, Jamison was an unstoppable whirling dervish, schooling bigger opponents with an array of gliding shots off the glass. Against smaller foes, he would crush them with a barrage of baby hooks and turnaround jumpers.

Carter may only be a freshman; but at the tender age of 18, he already has a built-in repertoire of polished moves from 12 feet out — most notably the baby hooks in the paint.

To the untrained eye, one might have believed that Jamison successfully cloned himself back to the college ranks.

5. Coach Gregory has a good grasp of what makes Georgia Tech fans tick

At the end of the post-game presser, a certain Fox writer (ahem, me) tried to spin Gregory’s “best 40 minutes of basketball” line into the following presumptive question: Was this your best win, program-wise, in the two years at Georgia Tech?

Without hesitation, a grinning Gregory responded, “No offense to Maryland, but we beat Georgia twice,” referring to the in-state victories of the last two seasons.