Jaguars meet Paine in season opener tonight

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O’Neal Armstrong is trying to erase from his memory the thoughts of what could’ve been last season.

O'Neal Armstrong (from left), Travis Keels and Tye Beal are the returning starters for Augusta State, which welcomes nine newcomers.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
O'Neal Armstrong (from left), Travis Keels and Tye Beal are the returning starters for Augusta State, which welcomes nine newcomers.

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, Augusta State just missed making a fourth consecutive trip to the Elite Eight in Massachusetts, losing at home in overtime to Anderson in the Division II Southeast Regional.

“We were right there. We had an opportunity to win twice,” Armstrong said. “We just have to get over it. We have to bring it this year.”

A new-look Augusta State squad will begin its first step on the road to the Elite Eight with tonight’s season opener against rival Paine. The Jaguars play host to the Lions at 7:30 at Christenberry Fieldhouse. After this contest, Augusta State plays seven of its next eight games on the road, two against top-20 opponents (No. 5 Lincoln Memorial, No. 13 Benedict).

“I think that’s the only way you get better. I don’t believe in playing those people you can beat,” eighth-year Jaguars coach Dip Metress said. “As a coach, you preach to them to bring it every day. It’s part of my job as a coach to schedule that way. We’re going to play good people.”

A tough early slate will test a team of four returners and nine newcomers. Augusta State returns its backcourt in starting senior guards Armstrong and Tye Beal. Junior center Travis Keels, who had surgery in the off-season to repair his ankle, also returns 100 percent healthy.

Beal and Keels are the last links to the team’s three-year Elite Eight run. After all five starters off the 2009-10 team departed, the Jaguars were expected to do little. Instead, Augusta State finished at 30-4 and won the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Jaguars did this with no inside presence, relying instead on guard George Johnson and forward Franck Ndongo.

“Last year,” Metress said, “we pulled it out of the hat somehow.”

Augusta State filled it inside void with 6-foot-7, 259-pound junior center Kelth Cameron transferring in from Tulane. Also, sophomore forward Harold Doby (6-5, 209), a former Laney standout who transferred from Georgia State, is expected to be a major contributor, along with Keels.

Forward Roman Hill, a sophomore who transferred in from Cincinnati State Community College, is expected to play a big role. He had surgery on his knee in September and was cleared to practice six weeks later.

Four freshmen were added this year, along with redshirt freshmen forwards Charles Robinson and Devon Wright-Nelson.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

WHO: Paine at Augusta State, season opener

WHERE: Christenberry Fieldhouse

WHEN: 5:30 p.m., women; 7:30 p.m., men

NOTE: Augusta State’s men’s golf team will be honored at halftime of the men’s game. The two-time defending champion Jaguars, who defeated Georgia in June’s NCAA Division I national championship at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., will receive their championship rings.

AUGUSTA STATE JAGUARS

HEAD COACH: Dip Metress, eighth season

2010-11 RECORD: 30-4

KEY RETURNERS: G O’Neal Armstrong (Sr., 9.2 ppg, 4.3 apg), G Tye Beal (Sr., 6.1 ppg, 4.3 apg), C Travis Keels (Jr., 6.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg)

KEY NEWCOMERS: F Harold Doby (So.-TR), G Devonte Thomas (Fr.), G Roman Hill (So.-TR), C Kelth Cameron (Jr.-TR), G D’Angelo Boyce (Fr.), G Jay Manning (Fr.)

NOTES: Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Instead, the Jaguars won the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles, falling one win short of a fourth Elite Eight appearance. Keels, who was plagued by an ankle injury last season, is finally healthy. Metress sports a 174-51 record at Augusta State, 308-144 overall.

OUTLOOK: Augusta State is loaded with a senior backcourt and plenty of young talent in the frontcourt. The Jaguars have a brutal schedule, with seven road games (two against top-20 opponents) before Christmas. With nine newcomers, and the debut of redshirt freshman forward Devon Wright-Nelson, who’s academically inelgible this fall, Augusta State should jell by the second half of the season.

– Chris Gay, staff writer

2011-12 SCHEDULE

• Tonight Paine, 7:30

• Monday at Benedict, 7:30

• Nov. 27 at Coastal Georgia, 3

• Nov. 30 at Valdosta State, 7:30

• Dec. 3 at Francis Marion, 3:30

• Dec. 10 at King, 7

• Dec. 14 at Flagler, 7:30

• Dec. 17 Emmanuel, 4

• Dec. 19 at Lincoln Memorial, 7

• Dec. 31 Mount Olive, 4

• Jan. 4 Armstrong, 7:30

• Jan. 7 North Georgia, 7:30

• Jan. 11 Lander, 7:30

• Jan. 14 at Clayton State, 7:30

• Jan. 16 at USC Aiken, 7:30

• Jan. 18 at Georgia College, 7:30

• Jan. 21 Georgia Southwestern, 7:30

• Jan. 23 Columbus State, 7:30

• Jan. 25 UNC Pembroke, 7:30

• Jan. 28 at Montevallo, 4:30

• Feb. 4 Flagler, 3:30

• Feb. 8 at UNC Pembroke, 7:30

• Feb. 11 Francis Marion, 3:30

• Feb. 15 USC Aiken, 7:30

• Feb. 22 at Lander, 7:30

• Feb. 25 at Armstrong, 7:30


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