Augusta State men's coach Gary Tuell was more relieved to walk away from Christenberry Fieldhouse with an 88-78 victory over Francis Marion and a share of the North Division on Saturday night, than his 100th career win with the Jaguars.
"The wins mean I have had a lot of good players over the years," said Tuell, whose Jaguars clinched their fifth straight Peach Belt Conference North Division title. "To win a division championship in this league is tough. To win five of them, is kind of unbelievable."
The win also leaves Tuell four wins shy of 300.
The Jaguars (16-9, 12-5) opened the second half with a 15-4 run that extended their 36-32 halftime lead to 51-36 with 15:24 left in the game. Junior forward Patrick Curran scored six of his 13 points during the stretch, and junior guard transfer Jermale Wilkerson scored five of his career-high 23. Wilkerson also grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in the game.
"I expect our starters to do well that's why they're starting," Tuell said. "I thought Dean Brebner was huge in the first half and Lee Jones also played great. It's the guys that are younger that need to come in and be productive."
Augusta State led by as many as 16 in the second half before Francis Marion (12-12, 7-10) started to rally. The Patriots used a 13-5 run capped by Mike Buglione's 3-pointer to cut the lead to eight with 3:15 left.
Jarron Hinton drained a jumper and Randy Williams hit two free throws but the Jaguars sank 8 of 12 free throws in the final two minutes to secure the win.
"I don't know why this keeps happening to us," senior guard Chris Harriman said. "We get up to a good lead and for some reason we only win by four or five. I'm happy we got the win, but we need to try and finish our games strong."
The Jaguars shot 60 percent from the field in the second half and was 17-for-23 from the free-throw line in the game, but lost senior guard Darrick Broddie and junior forward Marty Dunham, who were ruled academically ineligible before the game. The loss will put added pressure on the team to improve its defense and the bench to step up when needed.
"We've had a lot of adversity to overcome this year ... I'm just so proud of those kids in the locker room. They've hung together and worked as a team.
"I just don't know far this team can go, I don't know if we can win another game," Tuell said, "but I know those guys will try."
Reach Miguelangelo Hernandez at (706) 823-3304.