Jags' season has silver lining

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. --- The final score didn't tell the whole story.

The massive scoreboard hanging in the middle of the MassMutual Center displayed the following: Winona State 87, Augusta State 76.

The score alone said the Jaguars lost. That wasn't the case at all.

Augusta State's men's basketball team made its first trip to the NCAA Division II national championship game, a contest televised live to millions of viewers on CBS. Despite a team-high 26 points from two-time All-American Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman, the 10th-ranked Jaguars fell just short Saturday.

"You're not runner-up," Augusta State athletic director Clint Bryant said. "You're national finalist. That's pretty good for somewhat of a commuter school in Augusta, Georgia."

In four years, coach Dip Metress has transformed Augusta State into a national contender. This season, his team tied a school record for wins in a season, finishing at 27-7.

The Jaguars won the South Atlantic Regional and then knocked off Central Oklahoma in double overtime in the Elite Eight before brushing aside Alaska-Anchorage in the Final Four.

Augusta State took a 12-point halftime lead over No. 3 Winona State. The Warriors (38-1), making their third consecutive title game appearance, overcame a 16-point deficit in the second half for their second national championship.

Despite the result, Mr. Metress told his players to keep their heads high.

"If this is the worst thing they go through in their life, they're going to have a pretty good life," he said. "They've accomplished things this program has never accomplished before.

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