ASU prepares to host Division II tourney

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For its home opener in December, the Augusta State men's basketball team gave away a used car to try to attract fans to its games.


Now, there's no need for promotions. Home crowds have grown as the season's progressed, the Blue Crew increasing by the game.


And today seems the prime time, Jaguars junior forward Luke Tambon said, for Christenberry Fieldhouse to hold its first sell-out crowd of the season.


"Since our freshman year we've been wanting to pack this place out," he said. "This seems like the perfect opportunity."


Augusta State plays host to Elizabeth City State at 6 tonight in the first round of the South Atlantic Regional. The winner advances to the region semifinals - the Division II Tournament's round of 32 - at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.


In other action, No. 3 seed Clayton State faces No. 6 seed Catawba at 12 p.m. in the day's first game. Virginia Union, the No. 2 seed, plays No. 7 seed Lander at 2:30 p.m. The winner of those contests will meet at 5 p.m. Sunday.


Fourth seed Armstrong Atlantic State faces No. 5 seed Wingate at 8:30. The winner advances to play the Augusta State-Elizabeth City State winner.


In their fourth trip to the Division II Tournament, the Jaguars finally have home-court advantage for the first three rounds. School officials spent Thursday placing NCAA logos and banners on and around Christenberry Fieldhouse. Augusta State junior forward Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman said the changes have added to his team's excitement of making postseason play for the first time in five seasons.


"At first, I tried to act like it was any other game," he said. "But slowly, it's kicking in."


The 18th-ranked Jaguars (23-6) won 14 games in a row en route to the Peach Belt Conference regular season title. Augusta State saw its streak come to an end at Clayton State the final week of the season. Then, the team dropped its regular-season finale to Georgia Southwestern.


Augusta State won its first-round game in the Peach Belt tournament last week before losing again to Clayton State in the semifinals.


"We know we're better than that; we can bounce back," freshman point guard Kip Small said. "We're not the No. 1 seed in the region for no reason."


Bowman, a first-team, all-region selection, leads the Jaguars with a 20.6 scoring average and is followed by freshman guard Ben Madgen (15.4). Sophomore center Garret Siler averages 12.9 points on 70 percent shooting with 72 blocks.


The Jaguars will face an Elizabeth City State team (16-15) that won four games in four days to claim the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Vikings are led by first-team, all-region sophomore guard Anthony Hilliard (19.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg) and senior forward C.J. Pigford (18.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg).


The key to tonight's game will be rebounding. Elizabeth City State, which owns a 6.7 rebounding margin, grabbed 20 more boards than Virginia Union in the CIAA tournament championship game.


"Hopefully, we'll take good shots. Hopefully, our main guys are going to shoot the ball. We can't control that. But we definitely have to keep them off the glass," Jaguars coach Dip Metress said.


Augusta State is back in its friendly confines where it has been almost perfect this season (10-1). In Metress' three-year tenure, Augusta State is 30-6 at Christenberry Fieldhouse.


"It definitely doesn't hurt, but it doesn't guarantee anything," Metress said about having home-court advantage. "I'd rather be hosting than going somewhere else."


Assistant coach Robbie McKinlay, a guard on Metress' Belmont Abbey teams that advanced to the Division II Tournament in 2002 and 2003, understands the importance of being at home.

Last season, five of the eight regional hosts advanced to the Elite Eight.


"It's a huge advantage to host," McKinlay said. "The two years I went to the tournament, the team that hosted went to the Elite Eight. So it's obviously a huge benefit.


"Hopefully, we'll pack the house and have that Sixth Man on our side."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com

SOUTH ATLANTIC REGIONAL CAPSULES

1. Augusta State


Coach: Dip Metress


Record: 23-6


How they got in: At-large berth


National ranking: 18


Key players: F Tyrekus Bowman (20.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg), G Ben Madgen (15.4 ppg), C Garret Siler (12.9 ppg)


Note: The Peach Belt Conference regular season champion Jaguars, 10-1 at home this season, are making their first postseason appearance since the 2001-02 season.

2. Virginia Union


Coach: Dave Robbins


Record: 21-5


How they got in: At-large berth


National ranking: 16


Key players: F Brad Byerson (15.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg), F Chris Greene (15.1 ppg), LaKeith Blanks (10.2 ppg)


Note: The Panthers have appeared in the national championship game the past two years, winning it in 2005.

3. Clayton State


Coach: Gordon Gibbons


Record: 23-6


How they got in: At-large berth


National ranking: 25


Key players: G Todd McLaurin (13.4 ppg), G Brandon Kelley (12.9 ppg), G Michael Sloan (12.2 ppg)


Note: Lakers opened the season winning 17 in a row and climbed as high as second in the nation before going 6-6 their past 12 games.

4. Armstrong Atlantic State


Coach: Jeff Burkhamer


Record: 21-8


How they got in: At-large berth


National ranking: NR


Key players: F/C Bryan Taylor (14.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg), G Tory Harris (14.2 ppg)


Note: Pirates are making their third trip to the Division II Tournament in the past four years.

5. Wingate


Coach: Parker Laketa


Record: 22-8


How they got in: Won South Atlantic Conference tournament


National ranking: NR


Key players: F Sean Barnette (21.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), G Justin Baker (17.9 ppg), F Bryan Grier (11.5 ppg)


Note: Bulldogs, averaging 84 points a game, scored a season-high 122 against Carson-Newman.

6. Catawba


Coach: Jim Baker


Record: 20-10


How they got in: At-large berth


National ranking: NR


Key players: G Antonio Houston (16.9 ppg), F Chris Woolridge (16.0 ppg), G Brian Graves (13.5 ppg)


Note: Indians have won 11 of their past 12 games, and they own victories this season over Augusta State, Wingate and Lander.

7. Lander


Coach: Bruce Evans


Record: 20-10


How they got in: Won Peach Belt tournament


National ranking: NR


Key players: G Jarred Jackson (14.7 ppg), G Michael Griffin (11.7 ppg)


Note: Bearcats making their first trip to the Big Dance since 1999, when they advanced to the Elite Eight.

8. Elizabeth City State


Coach: Shawn Walker


Record: 16-15


How they got in: Won CIAA Tournament


National ranking: NR


Key players: G/F Anthony Hilliard (19.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg), F C.J. Pigford (18.2, 8.4 rpg)


Note: Vikings lost six regular-season games by four points or less.


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