By Tim Howard | Staff Writer
The Augusta Jaguars have had a somewhat disappointing season by their own standards after being picked to finish second in the Peach Belt Conference preseason coaches’ poll.
Augusta started the season 12-7, but began the month of February on a three-game losing streak, including two straight home losses.
Despite the setback, the Jaguars have reeled off three consecutive wins, with two of those victories coming on the road, and will host the first round of the 2016 Peach Belt Conference tournament on Feb. 28, with an outside chance to clinch a share of the PBC East Division title for the second consecutive season.
After an 82-66 home win over rival USC Aiken on Feb. 13, the Jaguars went to Florence, South Carolina and defeated Francis Marion University 84-82 in overtime.
The win, which came against a FMU team fighting for its postseason life, gave head coach Dip Metress his 400th career win.
In that game, senior forward Tommy Williams led all scorers with a career-high of 29 points, which he attributed to opposing teams’ tendency to focus on defending junior point guard Keshun Sherrill, who finished with 24 points and is averaging 23.6 points per game this season.
“We’ve got an All-American on our team,” Williams said, “so it’s like, teams are going to zoom in on him and make sure he doesn’t get off good. When they do that, it opens up more doors for the rest of us on the team.”
One of those doors was opened for freshman forward Tyvez Monroe, who hit a crucial 3-pointer with 44 seconds left in overtime that gave the Jaguars an 83-82 lead over Francis Marion.
Monroe said that Sherrill passed up an opportunity to shoot a 3-pointer, and instead passed Monroe the ball and trusted in him to make the basket.
“When Keshun saw that I was wide open, he could have easily taken that shot, because he’s the All-American,” Monroe said. “But he believed in me, he gave me the bounce pass, and I just hit the shot. Me and coach Jamie (Quarles) practiced that shot probably a hundred times, so it’s my job to knock it down.”
Metress added that Francis Marion focused so much on stopping Williams and Sherrill that they forgot to cover other Jaguars, including Monroe.
“It had gotten to the point where they were only guarding Keshun and Tommy,” Metress said. “Keith (Crump) was sick and not feeling well, and he didn’t want to shoot. Trevor (Foreman) wasn’t going to shoot. Ben (Ursich) wasn’t going to shoot. But Tyvez was going to shoot. It was just a matter of getting him to take a good one, and he had a huge shot.”
Metress added that Francis Marion’s switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone defense during the end of the game helped Monroe to get an open shot.
Sherrill spoke highly of his teammates, saying that the team matured after stopping Francis Marion and leaving with a hard-fought win.
“It’s always tough playing at Francis Marion,” Sherrill said. “I think we really grew up a little bit that night. We defended at the end when we needed to as a team, and that’s why we came out with that W.”
The second road win came at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., in what Monroe equated to a revenge game of sorts.
Before the game, Monroe lamented that Augusta should have beaten Lander in their Jan. 9 win over the Jaguars in Augusta.
“Last time, we missed a lot of free throws,” Monroe said. “And if we had made our free throws, I’m sure that we would have won. So I know they’re a beatable team, and if we come out and play how we played against USC Aiken, I don’t think we can lose.”
The Jaguars have a Feb. 24 game at USC Aiken, and will then host a first-round PBC tournament game on Sunday, Feb. 28, because Christenberry Fieldhouse is hosting the Georgia Class AAA basketball state quarterfinals and semifinals on Thursday and Saturday.
In addition to giving the team an extra day of rest, Metress said that the team will have more practice time, especially if the Jaguars win their Feb. 28 game.
“Our goal is to be practicing in March,” Metress said. “A lot of times, you want to play in March, but we want to be practicing in March. That means – we have so many new guys who don’t understand this and that, you know. It’s a long year when you’re a freshman, this is all new, and it ain’t easy. But they’ve done a pretty good job of adapting.”
Sherrill said that the team’s focus has been the key in both games as well as during practices, which are becoming more and more rare.
“We’re kinda more focused right now. We want to end the season on a strong note going into the Peach Belt tournament. And so, these last couple of practices, we’re not in here long, but the time we’re in here, we’re getting it done, we’re getting better, you know.”
Contact Tim Howard at: firstname.lastname@example.org.