Originally created 02/16/99

Jaguars may share title



MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Gary Tuell spent the majority of his postgame soliloquy trying to revive his downtrodden team's spirits. His Augusta State Jaguars, trying to solidify a worst-to-first turnaround in this central Georgia town, had just walked off the multicolored floor with heads shaken, minds stirred and confidence staggering.

Tuell's message was clear: One game does not a season make. No matter how disappointing the 80-70 loss Monday night to Georgia College may feel, the loss cannot -- and should not -- take away from a 13-3 conference record.

He went around to each Jaguar, asking for their eyes, asking them if they wanted to defend at least a co-championship at next week's Peach Belt tournament in Savannah, or if they wanted to surrender because Monday's second-half effort did not meet the standard set in ASU's first 15 conference games.

The answer seemed clear from the sullen-turned-steaming facial expressions. Team fireplug Kavossy Franklin, who had just experienced his worst basketball night since moving east from Albuquerque and had his coach chastise him for hanging his head, bounced from his bench, jumped to middle of the locker room, and asked his teammates to join him.

ASU will need the fire they showed inside the locker room next week. Only with three wins and a conference tournament title will they find an NCAA Division II tournament berth awaiting them.

"We can't let this game blow the season," Tuell said in a Centennial Center hallway. "We're in the house at 13-3. We've got three more games to prove that we're a pretty good team."

There's no questioning ASU's ability. But Monday, the Jags ran into a Georgia College team short on size but heavy with hunger, playing like a desperate group trying to make a point. ASU started flat, used its defense to rebound to a 10-point second-half lead, then couldn't match its opponent's intensity as this all-important game slipped away.

Tuell called it one team imposing its will over another. The Bobcats blocked five shots, all in the final 10 minutes. Any free throw of significance they made. Any rebound of consequence they corralled.

Franklin, who leads the Jags in scoring and swagger, never could find his rhythm, as the Bobcats' 2-3 matchup zone forced others to beat them. Whenever the New Mexico transfer would post up, Franklin would get bumped, elbowed, knocked down.

The worst was watching his head slump as the seconds vanished.

Franklin finished with 18 shots and 13 points, making just one of his three-point tries. Georgia College's student section taunted him with "Over-rated!" chants four minutes in, then kept harassing him with more insults.

"I think he got flustered at the end," Tuell said of his leader.

And as Franklin goes, so go ASU's hopes. That's why Tuell appeared happy with his senior leader after he responded to the coach's criticisms with aplomb.

"We need Kavossy to show us the way," Tuell said. "If his head is down, then everyone else's will be, too."

After beating UNC Pembroke last week, the coaches from Lander, Columbus State, Francis Marion and USC-Aiken called Tuell to congratulate him, and to offer any assistance in beating the Bobcats, ranked first in the South Atlantic region.

The funny thing is that Georgia College's athletic director does the ranking. He's got ASU, who will be no worse than co-champs, as 10th regionally.

But what those coaches couldn't proffer were needed antidotes for GC's desire.

Even with Franklin sulking, and at times playing eight-on-five in a somewhat hostile environment, the Jags had their chances. With a season that's not over yet, this is no time for depression.

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.