Alex Smith has spent just one season in Augusta. Yet, he felt senior night tugging at his heart as much as the other four starters.
"I really feel this place is home to me," the Augusta State center said. "I kind of got emotional. I had to put that to the side and get back to business."
Smith posted a team-high 21 points and the third-ranked Jaguars pulled away from Lander, 82-55, Saturday night at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
Augusta State, the Peach Belt Conference regular season champion, extended its winning streak to 10 games and finished the regular season with the best record in school history at 25-2. The Jaguars, who extended their home winning streak to 27 games, went undefeated at Christenberry Fieldhouse during the regular season (14-0) for the first time in school history.
"To go undefeated at home is a special thing to do," said Augusta State coach Dip Metress. "But now it's time for the Peach Belt."
Augusta State will play host to Armstrong Atlantic State, a 78-76 winner over Francis Marion, in the first round of the conference tournament on Wednesday night. Metress said winning the tournament is the second goal for his team this season.
"It's postseason play now," said Jaguars senior guard Ben Madgen. "Every game is treated now as the last game. That's enough motivation in itself."
Madgen and senior point guard Daniel Dixon had a rough start to the game and combined to shoot 6 for 20 from the field.
Dixon shot 3 for 7 for seven points with five assists, three turnovers and two steals.
Madgen, who finished as the Peach Belt Conference's leading scorer for the second consecutive season -- he entered with an 18.7 average -- shot 3 for 13 from the field for nine points -- the first time in 25 games he failed to score in double digits.
"A lot of emotions at the start of the game," said Madgen, who played his first collegiate game in front of his father, who came over from Australia. "It happens sometimes. Maybe it got into me a little bit."
Augusta State struggled from the start after the school honored its seniors with a pre-game ceremony.
The Jaguars, who shot 44 percent from the field in the first half, led by only six late in the first half before going into intermission with a 37-28 lead.
"There was a lot of raw emotion with the five seniors," said senior forward Greg Hire. "And with how much Bennie and Flea (Dixon) have meant to Augusta State over the past four years, you were expecting that. I knew that was going to happen, that it was going to be tough at the start. We were just a little too fired up."
Smith and Hire helped the Jaguars' offense by attacking inside. Hire scored 11 points -- six above his season average. He made all three field-goal attempts and shot 5 of 7 from the foul line.
"I consider myself an unselfish guy," Hire said. "But if someone's going to give me the shot, I'm going to take it."
Smith shot 7 for 9 from the field, including a 4 for 4 effort in the second half. He added seven rebounds.
Senior guard Fred Brathwaite shot 4 for 11 from the floor for nine points. He added a team-high 10 boards, four assists and two blocks.
Augusta State, which shot 50 percent from the field, got a key contribution off the bench from sophomore guard Tye Beal. who posted a career-high 13 points. He drained all three 3-point attempts, and he scored eight points in the first half alone.
Lander (11-16) pulled within 58-49 on a Da'Shon Barrino layup, but Beal responded with a three from the left wing. Smith added a three-point play. Then, Dixon stole the ball at midcourt and drove in for a layup. Suddenly, the Jaguars led 66-51 with 6:45 remaining.
Along with Beal's effort, Dominic Morra scored six points as the reserves chalked up 25 points.
"If you've got guys coming off the bench, that's what's going to win championships," Hire said. "We need that. They win games."
Dane Sparrow scored 22 points to lead Lander. The Bearcats shot 40 percent from the field.