Second-half comeback lifts AU over Lander in season opener

Darren Lucas-White (11) goes up for two of is 22 points as AU rallied from 15 down at the half to win by 15 against Lander. (photo by Viraj Bulla)

By Carlos Rodriguez |
Sports editor

The Augusta University men’s basketball team successfully completed a comeback in the second half to defeat Lander University 87-72 on Wednesday night, Dec. 2, at Christenberry Fieldhouse in the season-opener for both teams. The game had no spectators, giving it a practice-like atmosphere.

The Jaguars trailed at the half by 15 but flipped the game around and went on to win by 15.

Augusta’s starting five all scored in double digits. Junior Darren Lucas-White led AU in scoring with 22 points, while grabbing eight rebounds and recording five steals. Juniors Miguel Arnold and Tyshaun Crawford both had 16 each while Crawford added nine rebounds. Sophomore Lee Flenor finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and junior Tyree Myers also finished with 12 points and dished out four assists.

Normally, Augusta would have had senior Troy Cracknell in the starting lineup, but due to recovering from a foot injury, it allowed Lucas-White, who played the sixth-man role over the past couple of seasons, to step up.

“I had to come in as next man up,” said Lucas-White after the game. “I had to come in on the offensive end and score buckets, and I had the same mentality on the defensive end just getting stops.”

In the sloppy first half, the Jags honestly started the game off strong before breaking down later in the half. Lucas-White scored AU’s first basket of the season after making a close jumper with 19:43 left to go up 2-0. After a couple lead changes, the Bearcats, who won the Peach Belt Conference tourney last season, looked to keep their lead after going up 13-12 off a layup make by Zane Rankin with 12:28 remaining. The Bearcats were able to take advantage of a couple Augusta turnovers and miss shots and went up 29-17 after Augusta native Deon Berrien knocked down a three on one possession, then the next possession down finished a reverse layup with 7:20 remaining.

After being down by 14, Lee Flenor made a contested layup and jump hook on back-to-back possessions, cutting Lander’s lead to 33-23 with 3:45 remaining. With less than a minute remaining, Berrien struck again, getting bumped in the lane but managing to finish a layup to go up 43-28. The score stood still heading into halftime.

Berrien scored 16 first-half points for the Bearcats. AU had Lucas-White, Myers and freshman John Whitehead III all score six points.

Despite not shooting any free throws in the half, Lander was able to pour in on the offensive end because of their consistency from the field. The Bearcats made 19-of-29 floor shots and were 5 of 10 from the three-point line. The Jaguars made 11-of-27 shots, going 2 of 7 from behind the arc.

“We got size and teams that don’t are going to put us out on the floor, and we got to make them pay inside,” said AU Coach Dip Metress. “I was really disappointed with our guards in the first half because they were getting beat so much.”

Miguel Arnold (5) had 16 points for the Jags. (staff photo)

The second half was a different story for the Jaguars coming out the locker room with different energy to go on a 16-0 run. The run started on the first possession of the half when Lucas-White grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back up while being fouled for the and-one opportunity. Guard Miguel Arnold forced the Bearcats to call a timeout and regroup after knocking down a mid-range jumper to cut the lead to seven with 18:27 remaining.

As if the Jags weren’t already pumped up on the run they were on, Flenor became a spark plug recording six straight points on three straight possessions, bringing even more energy to the team. Flenor, the sophomore from Miami, Fla., hit a close jumper on the first possession, on the second he took advantage of a Lander turnover and threw down what normally would be a crowd-pleasing slam dunk, and on the last possession intercepted a pass to finish a layup down the lane to cut Lander’s to 43-42.

“I knew the play was coming,” said Flenor. “We’ve been working on that play all week at practice, so I read it, got the steal and dunked it.”

Lucas-White spoke about how important it was to have Flenor on the floor.

“Honestly, the energy comes from Lee,” the junior guard said. “He was the main one getting steals. He’s the energy guy, whenever he got energy the whole team got energy, so we just feed off that.”

With 15:59 remaining, South Miami High School products Flenor and Arnold worked together as Flenor screened Arnold’s defender, freeing him up for a jump shot to give the Jags the 44-43 lead, their first lead in 16 minutes.

Right after that possession, Berrien ended Augusta’s big run, with a contact finish down the lane to regain the lead.

After exchanging the lead a couple times, the Jaguars were able to take a commanding lead and go up double digits after Tyshaun Crawford converted an and-one layup, putting AU up 61-60 with nine minutes remaining. Crawford had a strong game at the free-throw line sinking 6-of-7 shots.

At the half Metress told his guys he wanted Lander’s lead to be cut down to a certain amount with 10 minutes left but the team exceeded his expectations.

“I told them let’s try to be down six at the 10-minute mark, Metress said, “and I look up and say, ‘Dang, we’re up.”

Rankin knocked down a three-pointer at the 5:35 mark, cutting AU’s lead to 65-64. Lucas-White helped bring back some more energy on the defensive side, stripping the ball from Berrien and finishing a layup then the very next Lander possession he intercepted a pass, finishing at the glass once more, putting the Jags up 69-64 with 3:28 remaining.

AU continued building their lead and eventually it caused Lander to start fouling, leading to a series of a free throws. Crawford closed the game out with two free-throw makes, giving the Jaguars a 87-72 win.

Augusta outscored Lander 59-29 in the second half with the help of shooting 64.9-percent from field, knocking down 4-of-9 threes and making 10-of-11 of their free throws.

“It was a great team effort, and I’m just happy to be playing a game,” said Metress. “We just want to play ball.”

Clearly a strong defensive and offensive effort in the second half was key to this victory. Both Lucas-White and Flenor both stepped up and ignited the team’s fire.

“It starts with me and Darren on the defensive end,” said Flenor. “When we bring that energy, we bring it to the team and everybody start making shots.”

In the loss, Lander’s Berrien finished with 19 points, while Jermaine Patterson finished with 15.

Wednesday’s game was the first of four with Lander this season. Like the schedule Dec. 20 game with the Bearcats, this game was non-conference, as the schedule has been re-made several times due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Metress is now just six wins away from the 500-mark for his college coaching career. He noted that he has coached in 723 collegiate games.

AU was originally set to play Catawba University on Dec. 6, but a cancellation occurred so the Jaguars’ next game will be Wednesday, Dec. 9, at Newberry College at 6 p.m. They return to the home floor next Saturday, Dec. 12, to take on the Lions of Emmanuel College at 3 p.m.

The women’s basketball team has tipped off its season as well, playing an exhibition against Georgia Southern Saturday, Nov. 28, and an official game against Emmanuel this past Tuesday, Dec. 1. The Jaguars suffered losses to both the Eagles and the Lions 76-63 and 76-59, respectively.

In the exhibition, sophomore Ashleigh Boulin led the team with 18 points. Junior transfer November Morton added 17 points and four steals.

Against Emmanuel, junior Asia Harrison led the team in scoring coming off the bench to record 11 points with two steals and three rebounds and assists. Juniors Jaelyn Autman and Kiera Howard scored 10 points each.

“We have to improve defensively,” said AU Coach Millette Green. “We have to be able to disrupt the opposing team’s offense and end the possession with a rebound. Offensively, we are shooting the ball much better but we missed too many shots in the paint.”

Despite the loss, Green did see great things out of her team.

“We are starting to be more patient on the offensive end and move the ball,” she said. “I thought the spacing spacing and ball movement was better in comparison to the Georgia Southern game.”

Sophomore Lee Flenor (shooting the ball) had his best game as Jaguar with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists before fouling out. (photo by Viraj Bulla)

Contact Carlos Rodriguez at carlosjr521@gmail.com.