Augusta State celebrated its first South Atlantic Regional championship in style Tuesday night.
Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman scored a game-high 27 points, Ben Madgen added 24 and the Jaguars defeated rival Clayton State, 89-72, at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
The 10th-ranked Jaguars advanced to their first Division II Elite Eight, March 26-29, in Springfield, Mass.
"It means the world," Bowman said. "I can't put it into words."
"We all had the common goal of winning and making it to the Elite Eight," Madgen said. "We finally did it. It just seems like everything paid off, from the individual workouts to the conditioning to the practices, getting yelled at a lot."
Augusta State coach Dip Metress and his daughter, Elizabeth, climbed the ladder and made the first cut of the net after the game.
"Great feeling," Metress said. "Two, three weeks ago everybody had written us off a little bit. We kind of knew we weren't playing well, but we hung in there."
Augusta State began the Division II Tournament with Metress wearing the number "64" on his hand, stating that his Jaguars were the 64th team in the land entering postseason play. As the days progressed, he wrote "32" and then "16."
Now, he can wear "8." The team will take today off before getting back to work. On Monday, the Jaguars will fly to Massachusetts.
Augusta State improved to 25-6 for the second most wins in school history. The Jaguars are 14-1 at home.
Bowman, a two-time Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year, was named the Regional's Most Valuable Player. He scored 82 points in three games.
Bowman scored 16 of his 27 points in the second half. He shot 8-for-15 from the floor and 10-for-11 from the line.
With 2:05 remaining, Bowman broke free for a reverse two-handed dunk. The slam was a great way to end his home career.
Madgen and center Garret Siler were named to the All-Regional team. Madgen's 24 were his most points in 12 games. He shot 8-for-12 from the field with three 3-pointers.
Siler, who picked up three first-half fouls, shot 4-for-4 from the floor for eight points. He also posted five rebounds and three blocks before fouling out with 2:56 remaining in the game.
Mired in a season-long slump, sophomore guard Daniel Dixon scored in double digits for the second time in 17 games.
He drained a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 10 points. Dixon added four assists and three rebounds.
Augusta State trailed 34-27 with 4:54 left in the first half after Clayton State's Will Lewis knocked down two free throws.
The Jaguars looked like the No. 10 team in the nation over the final three minutes of the half. Luke Tambon, who replaced Siler, picked up another charge. Dixon hit a tough 16-foot shot. Bowman tied the game with two free throws.
Clayton State's Jerome Boyd hit one of two free throws to briefly give the lead back to the Lakers. Madgen responded with a 3-pointer from the right corner. Bowman added another 3-pointer from the top of the key. ASU fans erupted. The Jaguars took a 42-37 lead.
The Lakers' Tracy Williams misfired on a 3-pointer at the end of the half. Augusta State grabbed the rebound. Steve Smith tossed a three-quarter court shot wide right at the buzzer.
Augusta State led by five at halftime. The Jaguars shot 65 percent from the floor in the second half, shooting 14-for-16 within the arc.
"When they're making shots like they did in the second half, it's difficult," Clayton State coach Gordon Gibbons said. "We just couldn't stop them."
At halftime, Metress told his team to throw out the scouting report against the Lakers, who allow just 64 points a game.
"We did a great job of executing, moving the ball," Metress said. "And we hit some shots tonight that stretched the defense."
Bowman scored eight consecutive points five minutes into the second half to give Augusta State a double-digit lead. His fast-break layup pushed the advantage to 54-43 with 15:26 remaining.
Down 16, Clayton State made a late charge. Michael Sloan drilled a 15-foot jumper. Lewis knocked down a 3-pointer. Williams swished a baseline jumper.
The Lakers were within striking distance at 71-62. But Siler responded with a dunk. Then, Madgen canned a 10-foot jumper. Augusta State led by 13 and began to smell victory with four minutes remaining.
Clayton State (19-15), which entered the Peach Belt Conference Tournament with a losing record, won six games in a row to advance to the regional final. The Lakers earned their way to the contest by winning four games in the conference tournament, including a quarterfinal win over Augusta State. A No. 8 seed, Clayton State upset No. 1 seed USC Aiken and also knocked off No. 5 seed Lenoir-Rhyne.
"It was an amazing run," senior guard Michael Sloan said. I wish it hadn't had ended, but somebody had to move on. Nobody there we'd be where we were.".
The top defensive scoring team in the conference, Clayton State allowed its most points in a game since a 90-61 loss to Georgia College & State, Nov. 28.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AUGUSTA STATE 89, CLAYTON STATE 72
CLAYTON STATE (19-15)--Michael Sloan 2-8 0-0 5, Brian Kelly 0-1 1-2 1, Armel Traore Dit Nignan 1-3 2-2 4, Tracy Williams 6-15 0-0 14, Bernard Fields 7-10 0-0 18, Trey Goss 0-0 0-0 0, Ricky Garrett 2-5 0-0 6, Will Lewis 5-9 2-2 13, Jerome Boyd 5-7 1-2 11. Totals: 28-58 6-8 72.
AUGUSTA STATE (25-6)--Ben Madgen 8-12 5-5 24, Tyrekus Bowman 8-15 10-11 27, Garret Siler 4-4 0-3 8, Steve Smith 3-6 0-0 8, Demetrius Howard 1-5 2-2 5, Daniel Dixon 3-6 2-2 10, Jason Killeen 0-1 0-0 0, Caleb Brown 2-4 2-2 7, Luke Tambon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 29-53 21-25 89.
Halftime: Augusta State 42-37 3-point goals: Clayton State 10-24 (Sloan 1-4, Williams 2-5, Fields 4-6, Garrett 2-5, Lewis 1-4), Augusta State 10-27 (Madgen 3-6, Bowman 1-5, Smith 2-4, Howard 1-5, Dixon 2-5, Brown 1-2). Rebounds: Clayton State 27 (Fields 5), Augusta State 29 (Howard 8). Assists: Clayton State 16 (Williams 6), Augusta State 22 (Howard 5). Turnovers: Clayton State 15, Augusta State 13. Fouls: Clayton State 21, Augusta State 15. Fouled out: Siler, Fields. A-2,136.