When the Augusta State women hit the court today, they will play their first top-25 matchup in nine seasons. And to add to the intrigue, it’s a rivalry game.
The 24th-ranked Lady Jaguars play host to No. 6 USC Aiken in the rivalry’s first top-25 meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at Christenberry Fieldhouse. The men’s game follows at 7:30.
“I think it’s great for the fans and it’s great for the area,” third-year Lady Jaguars coach Nate Teymer said. “It’s great that both teams are relevant.”
For the women, the game will determine first place in the Peach Belt Conference East Division with four weeks to go in the regular season. USC Aiken (16-2 overall, 9-2) has won three of its past four games after losing leading scorer Kayla Harris to a season-ending knee injury. Guard Daniela Tarailo now leads the Lady Pacers with a 15.6 scoring average on a league-best 65 3-pointers.
Three seasons after a 1-26 campaign, Augusta State is off to a school-best 15-2 mark while losing its leading scorer, Jemimah Ashby, to a knee injury, Jan. 2; she’s expected to return in two weeks, Teymer said. Center Taylor Ayers, a former Laney standout, paces the Lady Jaguars with 11.4 points and 7.4 boards a game.
“It should be a good one,” said Lady Pacers coach Mike Brandt, who has won six in a row in the series. “I think it’s great for the CSRA to have two quality teams. Nate’s done a great job at Augusta State.
“I’m expecting a dogfight.”
In the men’s game, USC Aiken is seeking to end a long drought at Augusta State. The Pacers last won in Augusta on Jan. 23, 2002, when Clint Keown scored a game-high 30 points to lead USC Aiken to a 65-61 win. Since then, Augusta State has won the past 10 regular-season matchups on its home floor.
Last year, forward Harold Doby posted 20 points and nine rebounds as Augusta State overcame a seven-point deficit the final 8:24 for a 58-53 win. But the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Doby remains out following his arrest on a gun charge Jan. 16, and the Jaguars have gone 1-4 against Peach Belt foes with the absence of Doby and center Chad July, who was dismissed two days after Doby’s arrest, inside the paint.
“That’s just the hand we’re dealt,” Metress said. “We trying to figure out how to straighten it out.”
With little inside presence, the Jaguars got outrebounded 64-35 in Thursday night’s two-point loss at Armstrong Atlantic State, but they still had a chance to win when Ryan Weems missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. That’s one of the reasons Metress likens his team to Rocky Balboa from the first Rocky film.
“We keep getting up and we keep swinging,” Metress said. “We have to keep after it.”
USC Aiken (13-5, 9-2) is looking to repeat as Peach Belt champs, leading the East Division by 1 1/2 games over Armstrong. Augusta State (10-7, 5-5) remains in fourth place in the division by a half-game over Flagler.
The Pacers have weapons all over the court with guards Re’mon Nelson (14.1 scoring average, 122 assists) and Ronald Zimmerman (15.4 scoring average, 69 3-pointers). In the frontcourt, former Cross Creek standout Santoine Butler is averaging 12.5 points and 6.4 boards a game, while Paul Larsen chips in with 11.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.
Weems leads Augusta State with a 15.3 scoring average, while Devon Wright-Nelson is second (13.8).