SPRINGFIELD, Mass. --- After the last batch of media interviews ended, Augusta State coach Dip Metress opened the door to find his star player, Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman, waiting for him in the back hallway.
Metress asked Bowman, his first recruit when he took the reins four years ago, why he waited.
"We came in together," Bowman said. "We leave together."
Bowman and Metress wrapped their arms around each other as they walked through the MassMutual Center. The initial sting of losing the Division II national championship game was gone. Now it was time for reflection. And appreciation.
"You won't hear anything negative coming out of my mouth, because what we did transformed our basketball program," Metress said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm back in that nice, warm weather of Augusta."
In their first title game, the 10th-ranked Jaguars weren't able to slay No. 3 Winona State.
Sometimes, Goliath wins.
Making their third consecutive national title game appearance, the Warriors defeated Augusta State, 87-76, in front of 5,628 fans Saturday.
Winona State (38-1) capped a remarkable season, winning its 32nd game in a row and claiming its second national championship.
The Warriors' last loss to a Division II opponent came against Barton College in last year's national final. That time, they blew a seven-point lead in the final 45 seconds and walked off the court stunned.
This time around, Winona State watched Augusta State's players and coaches leave the hardwood floor upset over what happened in the final 20 minutes. The Jaguars watched a 16-point second-half lead crumble. They watched their chance at bringing home the school's first national championship disappear.
"I'd like to have some plays back," Metress said, "but we played in the national championship game.
"We just came up short on the biggest stage we can get to."
Bowman, a two-time All-American senior forward, shined in the national spotlight, scoring on alley-oop dunks and throwing in shots from everywhere in the first half. Scoring 20 points before intermission, Bowman finished with a team-high 26 on 12-for-15 shooting.
Center Garret Siler scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half. He added five rebounds and five blocks.
Bowman and Siler each were named to the all-tournament team. Bowman would've been the tournament's Most Outstanding Player if not for Winona State's Jonte Flowers.
An All-American guard, Flowers was near unstoppable, scoring 25 of his game-high 30 points after halftime. He added four steals and four 3-pointers.
"Big players," Bowman said, "step up in big-time moments."
Augusta State opened the game poised. Bowman's dunk off a Ben Madgen assist gave the Jaguars a 17-15 lead.
Bowman, who had surgery to repair three holes in his heart six months earlier, was great in the first half, scoring eight in a row. Madgen followed with a 15-foot jumper. Backup center Jason Killeen scored on a hook shot. After two Madgen free throws, Dixon stole a pass and went in for a fast-break layup. Then, Bowman banked in Demetrius Howard's missed 3-pointer.
Augusta State led 44-28 with less than a minute left before halftime. But Winona State responded with a Cutrel Robinson free throw and a Quincy Henderson 3-pointer from the corner at the end of the half. The Warriors pulled within 44-32 at the break.
"We went in the locker room with that positive," Winona State coach Mike Leaf said. "Down 12 wasn't that bad."
In its past two games, Winona State rallied in the second half. The Warriors faced a third consecutive challenge as Siler's three-point play extended the Augusta State lead to 53-37 with 17 minutes remaining.
"The last 20 minutes, we're just a blue-collar team," said Winona State senior forward John Smith, the two-time reigning Division II Player of the Year who posted 18 points.
The Warriors started attacking Augusta State's interior and started raining in 3-pointers. Winona State went on a 22-5 run and knotted the game at 58-all on Flowers' 15-foot jumper.
"We knew they were going to make a run, because they're a great team," said Madgen, who finished with 20 points. "It just seemed in the second half every shot that was going up was going in. There wasn't much we could do about it."
The Warriors pounded the Jaguars on the glass in the second half, winning the rebounding battle, 29-11. Winona State snatched 21 offensive boards.
With Augusta State struggling, the news got worse. Bowman picked up his fourth foul with 12:19 remaining. He left the game for a few minutes before returning to hit a clutch baseline jumper and tie the game at 65-all.
With Augusta State down by one, Metress decided to sit Bowman. Winona State took advantage. Flowers hit consecutive 3-pointers from the top of the key. It was the break the Warriors needed. They led 75-68 with three minutes remaining.
"That was a turning point," Metress said.
That Augusta State (27-7) couldn't muster any more magic in the waning moments is irrelevant. There were too many positives this season.
The Jaguars tied the school record for victories. They won their first South Atlantic Regional. They won two more games to advance to play in front of a national audience on CBS.
The loss prevented a storybook ending to Bowman's career, one where he finished as the school's second-leading all-time scorer. Still, he said he doesn't believe the defeat closes the book on the Jaguars.
"I know I'll be back here next year," he said, "watching them play again."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.
NO. 3 WINONA STATE 87 NO. 10 AUGUSTA STATE 76
WINONA STATE (38-1)--Travis Whipple 5-9 1-2 13, Quincy Henderson 4-8 0-0 10, Jonte Flowers 11-22 4-8 30, David Johnson 3-8 0-0 7, John Smith 5-12 4-6 18, Cutrel Robinson 0-4 1-2 1, Ben Fischer 3-5 2-3 8, Brent Riese 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Korth 0-1 0-0 0, Bryce Welch 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 31-69 12-21 87.
AUGUSTA STATE (27-7)--Ben Madgen 7-14 4-6 20, Steve Smith 1-2 0-0 3, Demetrius Howard 0-5 0-0 0, Garret Siler 9-1 2-2 20, Tyrekus Bowman 12-15 2-3 26, Daniel Dixon 2-7 0-0 5, Jason Killeen 1-1 0-0 2, Caleb Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Luke Tambon 0-1 0-0 0, Jamie Quarles 0-0 0-0 0, Etsho Ilunga 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 32-56 8-11 76.
Halftime: Augusta State 44-32 3-point goals: Winona State 13-32 (Whipple 2-5, Henderson 2-6, Flowers 4-10, Johnson 1-4, Smith 4-4, Robinson 0-1, Fischer 0-1, Korth 0-1), Augusta State 4-15 (Madgen 2-4, Smith 1-1, Howard 0-3, Bowman 0-2, Dixon 1-5). Rebounds: Winona State 39 (Henderson 10), Augusta State 30 (Howard 10). Assists: Winona State 17 (Henderson 5), Augusta State 18 (Madgen 5). Turnovers: Winona State 7, Augusta State 15. Fouls: Winona State 14, Augusta State 20. Fouled out: none. A-5,628.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Winona State senior guard Jonte Flowers posted 25 of his game-high 30 points in the second half.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Flowers drained consecutive 3-pointers within a 50-second span to give the Warriors a seven-point lead with 3:55 remaining.
NOTE: No. 10 Augusta State finished at 27-7 and as national runner-up.
MEET THE JAGS
A celebration picnic for Augusta State will be held today at Forest Hills Golf Club. The picnic will begin at noon after the team lands at Bush Field. The cost is $7.50 per person.