ATLANTA - The question wasn't a hard one for Georgia Tech's Jon Babul.
With the Jackets holding a two-point lead over Virginia with 17 seconds left, Babul had a chance to seal the game with two free throws.
"Darryl LaBarrie got up in the box before I shot the two free throws and said `Hey Jon, NIT or NCAA?"' said Babul, who sank his two free throw attempts to lift the fifth-seeded Jackets to a 74-69 victory over No. 4-seeded Virginia on Friday in the ACC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
"I just blocked everything else out and hit the free throws. Heck, I figured I hadn't done anything else in the game, so it was my time to shine."
The victory over 12th-ranked Virginia was Tech's third this season, marking the first time in ACC history that an unranked team has toppled a ranked opponent three times in a single season.
The Jackets (17-11) will meet North Carolina in the semifinals today at 1:30 p.m. The Tar Heels swept Georgia Tech in the season series.
But more importantly, Tech may be off the bubble and on more solid ground in its bid to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
"We're not thinking about that (NCAA Tournament) at all," said Jacket coach Paul Hewitt. "We're still alive in the ACC Tournament. As far as the conjecture, Are we in? Are we out? We can kind of take care of that on our own if we can get into Sunday, if we can play well tomorrow and we're fortunate enough to win tomorrow.
"Then we have a chance to take it out of everybody's hands. So we're just concentrating on the ACC Tournament and playing well against North Carolina tomorrow afternoon."
A speech by former Georgia Tech standout Brian Oliver motivated the Jackets in the win. Oliver, the Most Valuable Player in the 1990 ACC Tournament, teamed with Dennis Scott and Kenny Anderson to form the famous Lethal Weapon 3 that helped the Jackets to the Final Four that season.
"He told us that we had the opportunity of a lifetime to be playing here," said center Alvin Jones, who finished with 20 points and added two baskets and two blocked shots in the final three minutes.
"He also told us not to leave anything out there. He said he would give anything to have the opportunity to be back here and to take advantage of the opportunity."
The Jackets and Virginia (20-8) combined for a see-saw battle that produced 22 lead changes, 16 of which came in the second half when neither team led by more than five points.
But Tech got three Virginia starters - forward Chris Hall and Chris Williams and center Travis Watson - to foul out of the game. That gave Jones the freedom to dominate the inside late in the contest and ultimately determined Virginia's fate.
The Jackets didn't take the lead for good until LaBarrie drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 69-67 with 1:32 left. The Cavaliers tried to double-team Jones on the inside, but the 6-foot-11 center kicked the ball out to a wide-open Barrie, who nailed the basket.
Virginia still had a chance trailing 71-69 after Jones failed to convert a 3-point play with 49 seconds left, but Mason drew a charge on Babul to pick up his fifth foul.
"This is a very tough loss for our guys," said Virginia coach Pete Gillen.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.