By Leeroy Francis |
Augusta University found out that, yes, indeed 13 is an unlucky number in the Jags’ Peach Belt Tournament quarterfinal with USC-Aiken on Wednesday night, Feb. 28.
Coach Dip Metress’s team watched as the visiting Pacers opened the game with a 13-0 run, and the Jags could never quite climb back to level terms en route to an 89-79 loss at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
“You can’t win a game in the first five minutes, but you can sure lose it in the first five minutes,” Metress said in his office after the game. “It is a disappointing end, a tough way to go out, but we got to regroup and get these guys ready for next year.”
Metress had his Jaguars open the game with a 3-2 zone defense, but after the Pacers opened the game with a barrage of three-point attempts, he switched to a man-to-man defense. That contained the three-point shooting, and AU was able to gain some momentum before halftime slowly. Nonetheless, the Pacers adjusted their offense and started attacking the rim.
The Jags also picked the wrong night to go cold. They shot only 37 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes on 11-of-30 shooting. As a result, the Jags trailed by many as 14 points before halftime.
Yet they did not go down without a fight. Strong defensive plays from junior forward Deane Williams and senior forward Tamyrik “T.C” Fields in the first half helped fire up the Augusta crowd. Freshman Shawn Moss also shot well in the first half, starting key runs to help lead brief comebacks with much needed three-pointers making both of them midway through the first half to cut the Pacer lead to seven. That was as close as AU would ever get after the 13-0 start.
Led by Fields’ nine first-half points and three rebounds, the Jags trailed 41-32 at halftime and seemed to have gained some momentum.
The Pacers shot 48.5 percent in the opening half and outrebounded the Jaguars 22-16. Senior guard Paris Ballinger had 14 first-half points, going 4 of 6 from the field, 2 of 3 from the three-point line and a perfect 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
The Jags started the second half stronger than the first, but could only cut the Pacer lead down to eight numerous times in the second half. The Pacers stayed resilient with their aggressive style of play, especially with a tight half-court man-to-man defense that seemed to unsettle the Jags at times.
With 13:22 left in the game, the Pacer lead was cut to eight 52-44 with a ten-footer from Vlad Cobzaru, but on the ensuing possession, a technical foul was called on freshman Shawn Moss after some words were exchanged between him and the Pacers’ Doniel Dean. After Aiken made the two technical free throws, the Pacers went on another 8-0 run to stretch their lead to 16 with 12:11 left in the game.
The Jaguars was revitalized by hot shooting from junior forward Tyvez Monroe. He scored 18 of his 22 total points the last 11 minutes of the game, and with 2:51 left in the game Monroe made another three-pointer to cut the Pacer lead to only ten 66-56.
Once again, the Pacers found a way to go on yet another run, scoring seven straight in the next two minutes to stretch their lead to 73-56 with 5:48 left in the game. Augusta guard Aaron Byrd shot well late in the second half, scoring 10 points in the last 10 minutes.
With the win, the Pacers move on the semifinals of the PBC Tournament against third-seeded Clayton State on March 3. Other tourney winners on Feb. 28 included Clayton State, UNC-Pembroke, and Francis Marion. Pembroke and FMU will play in the other semifinal, also at Clayton State. The tourney final will be Sunday before the NCAA Division II tournament field is chosen.
The visiting Pacers were led by senior guard Paris Ballinger, who had 23 points and five rebounds. He also made 11 of 12 from the free-throw line. The Pacers had five total players scoring in double digits for the game. Center Robert Hill made it tough for AU in the middle. He had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots before fouling out.
Aiken also benefited from an advantage in the number of free throws it took. The Pacers shot 22 of 30, compared to 13 of 19 for the Jags.
Monroe, Fields, and Byrd each had a solid game for the Jags. Monroe had 22 points to lead all scorers and added four rebounds. Byrd had 12 points, four assists, and two rebounds.
Fields who finished the regular season ranked second in the PBC in points, points per game and made field goals, had another double-double, scoring 19 points and adding 12 rebounds. He got going early in the second half when AU trimmed the lead to eight, but the Jaguars could get no closer the rest of the way.
When asked about what he is going to miss about playing at AU, Fields, the Aquinas High School product, was grateful for the chance to play college hoops.
“Just playing basketball here period,” he said. “I never thought I would come to college and play college basketball. Coach Dip (Metress) believed in me, the assistant coaching staff believed in me, and my teammates believed in me, so that’s what I’m going to miss.”
Fields was asked about what is up next for him now that the season is over.
“Graduate,” he said. “I don’t have an idea after that, but I am focused on graduating from college, so that is a big step for me in my life.”
When asked about the game and the season, Byrd was disappointed the season was over but optimistic about the future.
“It sucks, and I hate it,” Byrd said. “Basketball has been a part of my life since I was 7 years old, so it’s hard. I love it and just got to move on to next year.”
Byrd said a priority for him in the offseason would be conditioning, including working on getter stronger.
AU had an eight-game winning streak against USC-A snapped, and the Pacers got their first win in Christenberry Fieldhouse since Feb. 26, 2014. This was the 26th appearance for Augusta in the PBC Tournament, never missing a trip since its beginning in 1992, including 14 straight trips under Metress.
There’s no rest for the weary, as Metress and his staff cannot afford to take time off.
“We will go recruiting, leave tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. and start recruiting, and we will bring in four or five new players,” he said.
Metress and his coaching staff will need to replace the four seniors in Fields, Cobzaru (who will go on to Dental School), Kyle Doyle and Andrew Parker.
“Tamyrik has great energy,” Metress said of his senior forward. “He went from being a role player his first year to an all-conference guy, and he has had a great senior year. We will miss all of our seniors—Kyle, Vlad, T.C. and Andrew.”
The Jaguars finished the season with 16 wins, and, you guessed it, 13 losses.
Contact Leeroy Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org