Michaux: Augusta University to play back-to-back exhibition games against Division I opponents

Tyvez Monroe might lead Augusta University in scoring in tonight’s exhibition at Clemson. Perhaps Tamyrik Fields will take the lead Friday night against Georgia Southern.

 

Or maybe it will be Kyle Doyle … or Deane Williams … or Mikkel Kolstad … or Vlad Cobzaru.

Game after game for three seasons, it was a rare occasion when Keshun Sherrill’s name did not appear next to “leading scorer” in any summary of a Jaguars basketball game. But without the most prolific scorer in Peach Belt Conference history to funnel the offense through anymore, Dip Metress will have to count on a collective effort in 2017-18.

“A lot of these guys were Robins last year, and Batman’s gone,” Metress said of his roster that has seven returning juniors and seniors. “I don’t think we’ll have one guy say, ‘I’m Batman.’ I think we’ll have a team full of guys who together will do this. It will be a more equal distribution of shots.

“We don’t have a guy that we’re going to run every play for. For the last three years everybody knew the ball was going to Keshun and we were able to get it to him and have success. It will be completely different.”

Even more different, all the top returning players are forwards, meaning the Jaguars won’t be looking at a guard to lead them as they have so often in the past.

“We’re definitely more inside-oriented,” Metress said. “We’re definitely different and will play off our posts rather than play off our guards. Obviously we lost a great player and leading scorer in conference history, but we’ve also got a lot of guys back who played. The biggest thing for the guys coming back is their roles have changed. No, this year they’re more the guys we’re going to count on to score for us on a consistent basis.”

The Jaguars are using this week to answer a lot of question marks with a couple of scrimmages and two exhibition games against Division I opponents on consecutive nights.

A bus load of students will attend when Augusta plays at Clemson tonight and then the Jags turn around and play host to Georgia Southern at home Friday night.

“It’s a great opportunity to get better and figure out what we’re good at and where we need to get better and expose weaknesses,” Metress said.

It’s a rare opportunity indeed. Metress noticed “hurricane relief” exhibitions popping up all over, starting with Missouri and Kansas. The National Association of Basketball Coaches wanted to support areas around the globe that were affected by the recent hurricanes, and the NCAA allowed schools to apply for a waiver for a special additional exhibition game that benefits relief efforts.

So in discussion with Clint Bryant, Metress thought it would be a good opportunity to add one and turned to nearby Georgia Southern to gauge interest.

The Eagles were all for it, and proposed Saturday when fans would be in town for a home football game in Statesboro. But Augusta University takes part in a day of service that day, so they settled on 7 p.m. Friday and Eagles coach Mark Byington asked if they could do it in Augusta because of a gym conflict with Georgia Southern volleyball.

“With all the Georgia Southern people they have in the area, it’s a good opportunity for their alumni who live in the Augusta area to see their basketball team play,” Metress said.

It will mark the first time a Division I team has played in Augusta since Feb. 23, 1991, when the Jaguars beat Winthrop 58-44 in their last Big South game before moving to Division II. Christenberry Fieldhouse opened on Jan. 29, 1991, with South Carolina visiting to play Augusta College.

All proceeds from tickets and sales of “Storm the ’Berry” T-shirts on Friday will go to the American Red Cross to help victims of the recent hurricanes that tore through Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Augusta will start its regular season next Friday against Mount Olive in the Barton College Classic and play four road games before the home opener Nov. 25 against Bowie State.

Despite losing the conference’s best player, Augusta’s men were picked by the league’s head coaches to finish runner-up in the Peach Belt Conference preseason poll, behind UNC Pembroke and ahead of Columbus State and USC Aiken.

Augusta was the only Peach Belt team to advance to the second round of the NCAA Division II Tournament last season, finishing 24-8 overall.

Since Armstrong State was absorbed by Georgia Southern and Montevallo returned to the Gulf South, the now 12-team Peach Belt got rid of divisions and will go with a 22-game double round-robin schedule where every team plays everybody else at home and away. The top eight teams will qualify for the conference tournament.

The Jaguars will have to play three Peach Belt games before Christmas, starting with Georgia College on Dec. 2.

“You get a truer champion when you play everybody,” Metress said, though he laments the longer conference schedule means fewer nonconference games of which Augusta will play six this year. “It’s good and bad.”

 

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