The bigger man

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It's the quick fouls at the beginning of the game that get Augusta State center Garret Siler in trouble.

At 6-foot-11, 304 pounds, Siler is a magnet for whistles. The largest player in this week's Elite Eight, he'll again be an easy target for officials.

"I had one referee tell me that he hates coming here, because nobody knows what to do with the big guy," Jaguars assistant coach Lenny Carlson said. "As soon as he catches the ball in the post, three guys on the other team fall down on the floor and the coach is yelling, 'Foul!' "

Augusta State faces Central Oklahoma at noon Wednesday in the NCAA Division II Tournament quarterfinals at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass. Siler will have a four-inch, 54-pound size advantage over the Bronchos' biggest regular player.

"We, obviously, want to keep him on the floor as much as we can," Jaguars coach Dip Metress said. "When you go to the national tournament, guys have never called him before and don't realize how big he is and how people just bounce off him."

Keeping Siler in the game may be critical to Augusta State's success. The junior from Richmond Academy leads the nation in field-goal percentage (78 percent) and is a force on defense (83 blocks).

When he's on the floor, Siler helps open up the Jaguars' perimeter game. He also helps free up All-American senior forward Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman.

"You need a big guy in the hole," Metress said last year. "One of the reasons we are where we are is because of him and A.J."

A second-team all-region selection, Siler has scored in double digits in 24 of Augusta State's 31 games, including a 31-point performance against Georgia Southwestern. In the three South Atlantic Regional games, Siler shot 16-for-18 from the floor for 40 points. Siler added 22 rebounds and 11 blocks.

Siler also came up big when the Jaguars needed him most. His layup with 1:40 remaining gave Augusta State a three-point lead in the South Atlantic Regional opener against Johnson C. Smith.

In the Regional semifinals, Siler picked up two fouls in the first two minutes against Wingate. He played the final 11:55 of the first half and scored nine points to help the Jaguars overcome a 10-point deficit.

Siler then scored three baskets the first 3 minutes of the second half to help the Jaguars tie the game, before they pulled away for a 13-point victory.

In the Regional championship, Siler put the breaks on a 10-2 Clayton State run with a dunk that helped the Jaguars break free for the win.

"He takes up a lot of space," guard Daniel Dixon said. "He is a great player. In my book, I always say he's an All-American."

"He sucks up so much of the defense just him running to the post," forward Luke Tambon said. "It gets Ben (Madgen) open, Dee (Demetrius Howard) open, A.J., Steve (Smith). And when he gets the ball, he's starting to make the right decisions whether it's to kick it out or to make a move."

In the games against Wingate and Clayton State, Siler picked up a foul within the first 40 seconds. He fouled out of both games.

"That's just him showing emotion, trying to get that extra rebound," Metress said. "I guess it's a good problem to have, because he's into the game and trying to do the right things."

Bowman added: "Some of Garret's fouls aren't totally his fault. We've got a do a better job of keeping our man in front of us. That should eliminate some of the cheap fouls."

Siler said he understands staying out of foul trouble this week won't be easy, because he doesn't know the referees' tendencies.

"It's going to be hard," Siler said. "A lot of big men pick up fouls. In order to be an enforcer, you've got to know you're going to pick up some because, if you don't, they're all going to drive to the hole."

If Siler averages a double-double, which he's shown he can do, the Jaguars are in good shape.

"I'm a big piece of the puzzle, I guess," Siler said.

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

ELITE EIGHT


WHAT: Division II Elite Eight, Augusta State (25-6) vs. Central Oklahoma (28-5)


WHEN: Noon, Wednesday


WHERE: MassMutual Center, Springfield, Mass.


ONLINE: Go to www.augustachronicle.com for live game updates. Staff writer Chris Gay will blog during the game.


BOWMAN NAMED ALL-AMERICAN


Augusta State senior forward Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman earned first-team All-American honors for the second consecutive season. Bowman was one of five players named to the first team Monday by the Basketball Times.


Bowman was one of two Peach Belt players to win All-American honors -- USC Aiken junior forward Chris Commons was named to the second team. Five players in the South Atlantic Region were named All-American, including Wingate's Sean Barnette (first team), Virginia Union's Brad Byerson (third team) and Elizabeth City State's Anthony Hilliard (third team). Central Oklahoma's Sam Belt was named to the third team.


Bowman, a two-time Peach Belt Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of this year's South Atlantic Regional, is averaging 19.6 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.


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