Originally created 12/19/97

Comeback win has Jaguars feeling great



Mere concrete wasn't good enough for Gary Tuell. Not on a night like this. Not after a win like that.

Standing in the Augusta State locker room after Thursday night's 69-64 upset of Morehouse, the first-year coach clambered onto a bright blue folding chair and invited his basketball players to do the same.

"You know what?" Tuell began. "I'm feeling this tall right now. And the view is so much better up here."

There was laughter. There was warmth. There was energy.

And there was a sense that with this single step -- Tuell's first home win and just the second in his eight-game tenure at the Division II school -- an era had truly begun.

Coming back from 17 points down in the second half will do that for a ballclub. Seeing all your hard work pay off with an upset win over a superior team will do that. Finding a way to convert blind faith into tangible results will do that.

And then from on high there came a voice. It belonged to Demetric Taylor, the burly sophomore forward. With his right hand he hoisted a can of Orange-Tangerine Powerade toward the ceiling. With his deep baritone, he commemorated the moment.

"I propose a toast," Taylor said. "A toast to Coach, who pushed us and believed in us and helped us get here. Drink up, fellas. Drink up."

Never in their young lives has fruit punch tasted so good. Who knows how many more toasts will be this sweet?

Oh, sure, they did the same thing two weeks ago after beating Claflin on the road. But that was Claflin. And they only won by two points. Somehow this felt different, better.

Maybe it was the sound of laughter coming from the Morehouse locker room at halftime. See, the Tigers apparently thought this one was over, up 39-23 after 20 minutes.

Who could blame them? Hadn't they held the Jaguars without a field goal for the final 9:44? Didn't they have 11 guys on their roster 6-foot-5 or taller? Weren't they playing a banged-up team with a 1-6 record and more talent in street clothes on the end of their bench than they could possibly put out on the floor?

The Tigers laughed.

And then they cried.

The Jags? They had other plans. They hooted and danced and talked about "ringing the bell." They even wrote it on the chalkboard: "Let's ring da bell!"

Seems Tuell has already started a tradition. He got the idea back in July, the first time he toured the campus. He spied a modest yellow bell tower next to the admissions office, and he asked out of curiosity if it ever rang anymore.

No, the answer came, no one had heard that thing ring in years.

On the bus back from the Claflin game, Tuell asked the driver to take a detour. It was close to midnight when the Jaguars hit campus, but one by one they took turns ringing that modest little bell.

Each player got a single ring, symbolic of Augusta State's win total for the season. Tall as they are, none of them could reach the cord without a boost from a teammate. Tuell loved the symbolism. The players loved the whole silly endeavor.

Suddenly, there was company.

"Freeze!" yelled two campus police officers, hands on their holsters.

Buck Harris, the Jaguars assistant coach, spoke up for the stunned group.

"It's all right," he said, "we're the basketball team."

The officers exchanged confused glances and shrugged. The basketball team? they probably wondered. We have one of those?

"Oh, OK," they finally said. "Next time, though, let us know. Give us a warning."

Thursday night, after they quickly showered and dressed, the Jaguars headed for their Victory Bell.

"All the top schools have traditions," Taylor said. "North Carolina, Duke. It was time we started one here at Augusta."

Drink up, fellas. Drink up.



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