After making three consecutive trips to Springfield, Mass., the Jaguars fell one win short of a return to the Bay State on Tuesday evening.
Despite mounting a late second-half comeback, No. 3 Augusta State fell in overtime to Anderson, 75-73, in the Division II Southeast Regional championship game.
The seventh-seeded Trojans cut down the nets and advanced to the Elite Eight, while Augusta State (30-4) was left sitting at home with its collection of banners and retired jerseys from recent seasons. The top-seeded Jaguars, who have played host to the past five regionals, watched their winning streak at Christenberry Fieldhouse end at 48 games in front of 1,910 fans.
Augusta State coach Dip Metress successfully replaced all five senior starters off last season's Elite Eight squad. Seniors Franck Ndongo and teammate George Johnson, who each tied for regional outstanding player honors, helped the Jaguars tie a school record for wins in a season. Augusta State also won the Peach Belt Conference regular- season and tournament titles.
"I guess we're winners," said senior center Howard Brown, who will leave with five championship rings. "It's a tough loss, a real tough loss."
"Tough loss," Metress said. "Give Anderson all the credit. They made some tough shots in the first half."
The Trojans (21-11) swished seven 3-pointers in the first half and established a 39-32 halftime lead. Augusta State trailed by as many as nine with 10:56 remaining but rallied and took a 67-64 lead on a Johnson 3-pointer at the 3:09 mark..
The Jaguars then blew two chances to extend the margin. Johnson, who scored 18 points, committed a turnover and Ndongo missed a layup. Later, Augusta State led by two when Ndongo, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, stepped to the line for two foul shots with 42 seconds left. After making his first eight attempts from the foul line, he watched the first shot bounce out. Then, he left the second attempt short.
"It was huge. I was planning on him making both of them," said Anderson coach Jason Taylor, who had two plays set up if Ndongo made at least one free throw. "By the time he missed both I scratched everything. I just wanted to get the ball to the rim."
Anderson knotted the game at 69 when Kevis Cornwell pulled up for a 15-foot jumper with 27 seconds left. The Jaguars held for the final shot and got the ball to Johnson, who fumbled it on the perimeter. Augusta State never got off a good shot.
In overtime, the Jaguars were 1 for 9 from the field. Anderson, which was 2 for 3, picked up its lone two blocks after regulation. Augusta State's O'Neal Armstrong stole the ball from Brandon Young at midcourt, but Trey Britton raced down and swatted his fast-break layup attempt.
Johnson tied the contest on two free throws with 1:33 left in overtime. Taylor Shugart, who scored 14 for the Trojans, responded with a jump hook in the lane. After Ndongo missed inside, Anderson's Denzail Jones, who also scored 14, went to the line for the 1-and-1 with 17 seconds remaining. An 85 percent free-throw shooter, he missed the front end and Ben Purser grabbed the rebound.
Purser then drove inside in an effort to tie the game. Shugart leaped high and blocked him with two seconds on the clock. The ball shot over to Tye Beal on the right baseline. Time expired before his desperation missed long.
"I saw him try to shoot the ball," Shugart said of the block. "With every ounce of energy, I tried to jump up and block it."
Shugart, a member of Anderson's team that lost by 30 to Augusta State in last year's regional semifinals before falling to the Jaguars by six to start this season, said his team got its revenge.
"We knew it was a payback game," said Shugart, whose team is making its first Elite Eight trip said. "This feels amazing. I don't know what this feels like."
Augusta State, which won this year with defense, allowed Anderson to shoot 50 percent from the floor -- its worst defensive effort at home. The Trojans, who scored 34 points in the paint, collected 12 offensive rebounds.
"We wanted to establish an inside presence," Taylor said. "And I thought our guys defended their tails off all night long."
Augusta State shot 47 percent from the field, but it was the missed opportunities at the end of regulation and overtime that left it searching for answers.