GREENWOOD, S.C. -- Ten minutes before Augusta State's first-round Peach Belt Conference Tournament matchup with Clayton State on Thursday, Gary Boodnikoff was having his back stretched out by trainers.
As it turned out, the sophomore guard spent most of the Jaguars' 61-57 win giving his team a piggy-back ride.
Boodnikoff scored Augusta State's first 13 points on the way to a game-high 23, and the North No. 1 seed Jaguars extended their winning streak to seven games by fending off the South No. 4 Lakers at Finis Horne Arena.
With the win, Augusta State (17-10) advances to the tournament semifinals and will play South No. 2 seed Armstrong Atlantic State (15-12), a 77-54 winner over North No. 3 seed UNC Pembroke, at 6:30 p.m. today.
"I'm glad we won," Augusta State coach Gary Tuell said. "Gary got off to a great start. Fess (Hawkins) made two great blocks at the end. When we're playing well, I don't think there is anyone in this league that can beat us. I hope we continue to play well."
Boodnikoff went 9-for-14 from the floor, including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. In his last game against Francis Marion, he went scoreless. The 6-foot-6 sophomore from Alice Springs, Australia, has been hampered by a bad back all season.
"We have several new plays which allow me to come off picks," Boodnikoff said. "I felt good today, and fortunately the shots went down."
Boodnikoff hit three 3-pointers in the first five minutes as Augusta took a 13-3 lead.
That lead, though, wouldn't hold up as Charlie Frazier knocked down a baseline jumper to pull Clayton State within 24-22 with 2:26 left in the first half.
However, Boodnikoff drained another 3, and the Jaguars added four more points to take a 31-24 halftime lead.
Hawkins scored six points during a 10-2 run midway through the second half as Augusta State went up 47-31 with 11:33 remaining.
Frazier, though, capped a 20-7 Laker run with a layup to cut the lead to 54-51 with 1:42 left in the game.
After one of Augusta State's 21 turnovers, Frazier went inside to try to cut the lead to one. But his shot was blocked by Hawkins.
With the Jaguars holding a five-point lead with 32 seconds left, Hawkins blocked another shot.
Frazier hit a 3-pointer to bring the Lakers within three. Then Clayton State sent Mike Mills to the line with 6.2 seconds remaining.
The senior forward converted one of two free throws to put the game away. The Jaguars made just 11 of 23 foul shots.
"I was just trying to concentrate," Mills said. "I guess I'm going to have to go back to the gym tonight and shoot more free throws."
"Free throws are mental," Tuell said. "We're not going to dwell on that."
While Hawkins had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, no one else scored 10 or more points. Augusta State has struggled from 3-point range the past month, and Boodnikoof was the only Jaguar to make a 3-pointer.
"We've stunk shooting the three," Tuell said. "But we've got good 3-point shooters. They make 'em in practice and they made them last year. Sometimes, I think it's just mental."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.
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