AIKEN — With five family members in attendance, Devon Wright-Nelson finally came alive Saturday night.
The Georgia Regents junior forward scored a season-high 28 points, including the game-winning layup with 4.7 seconds remaining, to lift the Jaguars to an 86-84 win over Anderson in the NCAA Division II Tournament first round at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.
Georgia Regents advanced to play No. 5 USC Aiken in the Southeast Regional semifinals at 7:30 tonight. The Peach Belt Conference rivals split their regular season series, with the Jaguars knocking off the Pacers here Feb. 1.
“Look who’s coming to dinner,” said Georgia Regents coach Dip Metress, who improved to 6-0 in first round NCAA Tournament games with the Jaguars. “We’ve got to play 40 minutes (against USC Aiken). They’ve got great players. They’ve got 10 seniors. We just have to play well.”
Wright-Nelson, who entered with a 9.0 scoring average and a previous season high of 17 points two months ago at Armstrong Atlantic, played his best game when his team needed him most. The Washington, D.C., native shot 11 of 15 from the floor, including a 3 for 5 effort from the perimeter. Wright-Nelson scored nine of the Jaguars’ 12 points in the last 2:37 of the game.
“He was more focused,” Georgia Regents guard D’Angelo Boyce said. “He was more aggressive. He wasn’t worried about what coach was saying and just shooting the ball like he knows how to.”
Wright-Nelson scored his most points since posting a career-high 32 against Armstrong Atlantic State his freshman season. He said Metress has gotten onto him the past two weeks about passing up open shots.
“I just wanted to go out there and let it fly,” Wright-Nelson said. “I was lucky they went in for me today.”
The Jaguars shot 54 percent from the field and set a season-high with 12 3-pointers on 28 attempts. They led by as many as 11 in the second half, but Anderson shot 60 percent from the field after halftime and eventually tied Georgia Regents at 71 on a Chandler Hash 3-pointer with 3:30 remaining. The Jaguars led by three when Harold Doby missed two free throws with 44.7 seconds left. Wright-Nelson hustled for the rebound on the second miss, got fouled and swished both foul shots.
Georgia Regents led by three when Hash, who torched the Jaguars for 42 points when Anderson defeated Georgia Regents in November, pulled up from the top of the key. With 6-foot-8 K.J. Sherrill in his face, Hash drained the 3-pointer to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining.
Jaguars guard Ryan Weems, who scored 22 points, then got the ball on the left side as the clock wound down. Wright-Nelson sneaked in behind the defense, took the pass and scored the go-ahead layup.
C.J. Gleaton, who led the Trojans with 24 points, watched his desperation heave over Wright-Nelson at midcourt miss high off the backboard at the buzzer.
“Credit them, they’re really good,” Anderson coach Jason Taylor said about the Jaguars. “For them to play that way and our guys hang in there punch for punch, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Hash, a left-handed guard, entered ranked fourth in the nation with a 24.1 scoring average. After getting in early foul trouble and sitting most of the first half, he scored 18 of his 21 after intermission.
“He’s a great player,” Boyce said. “ It’s hard to stop a guy when he has a green light like he has. He did a great job today.”