J.J. Merritt stuck a dagger in the collective hearts of Augusta State University on Monday night.
Merritt drilled a pivotal 3-pointer with 21 seconds remaining as Shorter spoiled Augusta State's home opener 65-59 at the Augusta State Athletic Complex.
The loss marked the third consecutive season that the Jaguars have lost their home opener.
Shorter led 59-56 and guard Bryan Harshbarger was nearly tied up by Augusta State's Lamont Johnson before he kicked the ball to Merritt on the right wing on the game's deciding play.
Merritt, a 6-foot-2 junior from Doraville, Ga., finished with game-highs of 24 points and 10 rebounds.
"He was an honorable mention (NAIA) All-American last year," Shorter coach Ricky Williams said. "He stepped up and hit a big shot."
Shorter used an 8-0 run early in the second half to turn a 40-38 deficit into a 46-40 lead with 12:30 remaining.
Merritt is hoping this is the year Shorter (3-1) reverses a trend that has seen it post back-to-back 20-loss seasons. It was Shorter's first win ever over Augusta State University.
"When I let it go, it felt good when I was backpedaling back down the court," Merritt said. "Once it went through, it was a great feeling. It's one of the biggest shots of my career."
Jaguar coach Clint Bryant said he had to give the Hawks credit for dictating tempo and making their free throws down the stretch.
Merritt, who was 12-for-12, led a Shorter effort that saw the team make 19-of-26 free throws compared to Augusta State's 10-of-24 effort.
"We had way too many turnovers and way too many missed missed free throws," Bryant said.
Freshman sensation Oliver Ottley, who scored 30 points in his Jaguars debut and was averaging 27 points, was held to nine points on 3-for-13 shooting.
"We just didn't play well enough to win," Bryant said. "We're a young team and we made some young mistakes. This was the first game that Ottley and some of the other freshmen had some adversity and it won't be the last time either. I'm interested to see how they will bounce back."
Until Merritt's 3-pointer, the biggest lead by Shorter for more than 11 minutes was three points.
The Jaguars led 36-32 at intermission despite not making a field goal for more than six minutes (6:05) to end the half.
SHORTER COLLEGE (65)- Bryan Harshbarger 1-3 3-4 5, J.J. Merritt 5-18 12-12 24, Travous Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Paul Masterson 3-8 0-0 6, Andrew Freeman 6-13 0-1 13, Wayne Moss 0-1 2-2 2, Craig Lindsey 0-2 0-0 0, Tommy Johnstone 3-9 0-2 8, Keith Shumaker 4-5 1-2 9. Totals 22-60 19-26 65.
AUGUSTA COLLEGE (59)- Lamont Johnson 1-2 0-0 2, Chad Cook 4-16 2-7 12, Oliver Ottley, Jr. 3-13 3-7 9, Brian Clernon 5-8 0-0 13, Jeff Frazier 0-1 0-0 0, Leon Brunson 1-4 0-0 3, Patrick Woodward 0-5 0-0 0,Reggie Rosier 0-3 0-0 0, Brian Calvin 4-6 4-8 12, Frank Burau 3-6 1-2 8. Totals 21-64 10-24 59.
Halftime: Augusta State 36-32. 3-point goals: Shorter 2-8 (Merritt 2-4, Masterson 0-1, Johnstone 0-2, Moss 0-1). Augusta State 7-23 (Cook 2-6, Ottley 0-4, Clernon 3-5, Brunson 1-3, Woodward 0-2). Fouled Out: Calvin: Rebounds: Shorter 50 (Merritt 10), Augusta State 39 (Calvin 7). Assists: Shorter 14 (Masterson 5), Augusta State 16 (Cook 5). Total Fouls: Shorter 18, Augusta State 23. Technicals: J.J. Merritt (hanging on rim).
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