Augusta State Wins 106-104 Double OT Thriller in Elite Eight
The Augusta State Jaguars were down 14 in the second half and down six in overtime, yet managed to come back and beat Central Oklahoma 106-104 in the first game of the NCAA Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass. ASU, making their first-ever appearance in the nationals, will advance to the final four on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. against Alaska-Anchorage, who beat California of Pennsylvania 55-52.
Garret Siler tied a career-high with 31 points as ASU improved to 26-6 on the year. The junior from Augusta hit 11 of 16 shots from the floor and nine of 12 free throw attempts to go with seven rebounds. First-team All-American Tyrekus ‘AJ’ Bowman had only five first-half points, yet fnished the game with 22 and tied the team lead with eight rebounds. Demetrius Howard added 21 while Ben Madgen had 18, eight rebounds and five steals.
“You hate to see anyone lose this kind of game,” said ASU coach Dip Metress. “Our guys really hung in there. They don’t want to stop playing.”
Central Oklahoma sees their season come to a close with a 28-6 record. The South Central Region champions were led by 23 points from Brian Walker, who hit 13 of 14 free throws, and 22 points, 11 rebounds from Sam Belt. John Neal added 13 and Eric Cazenave 14 for the Bronchos.
The pattern of the game was established in the first half as Central Oklahoma ran out to an 11-point lead with 2:11 to go, only to see ASU close the gap. A Daniel Dixon three-pointer was followed by five straight points from Madgen to make the halftime lead 43-38.
“We gave up way too many easy baskets,” said UCO coach Terry Evans. “We took control late in the half, but they forced some turnovers and we made some other poor decisions.”
The lead remained five with 15:31 in the second when UCO went on an 11-2 run capped by three free throws from Belt that left ASU down 62-48 with 11:49 to play. The lead remained at 14 with 9:53 to go when the Jaguars responded with a 9-0 spurt to cut the lead to five. Howard scored five of the nine points while Siler had the other four.
“He was just more physical than our guys,” said coach Evans of Siler. “He just really dominated us inside.”
The lead fluxuated between seven and 10 points for the next three minutes before two more Belt free throws left ASU down seven with 1:36 to play. Howard again stepped up, hitting back-to-back three-pointers that cut the lead to one with 1:06 to go. The UCO lead was one with 10 seconds left when Bowman was fouled driving to the basket, but he made only one of the two free throws to tie the game. UCO’s Neal had the ball but could not get off a shot in the final seconds, sending the game to overtime.
“We just believe in each other and believe in ourselves,” said Madgen. “We just never gave up.”
In the first OT, the Bronchos again raced out to a six-point lead follwing two three-pointers from Cazenave. Two Brian Walker free throws left the lead at five with 1:05 to go when Bowman drained a three from the top of the key. He then tied the game with a driving layup on ASU’s next possession with 43 seconds to go. Two Neal free throws gave UCO a 95-93 lead. With 25 seconds left, Bowman again was at the line but again made one of two. Siler then had a chance with 21 seconds left at the line, but also made one of two to tie the game and send it to a second OT.
“I told the team, we’ve been here plenty of times,” said Bowman. “We just keep believing. In the first half, I was trying too much. I mean, this is our first Elite Eight. So, I just had to calm down and my teammates helped me with that.”
In the second OT, the Jaguars finally got started on top as Bowman opened the period with a three-pointer. UCO cut the lead to one but a Siler dunk and three-point play from Caleb Brown pushed the lead to six with 2:47 to go, the largest lead ASU had in the game. UCS got a three-pointer from Neal and a layup from Walker on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to one with 1:58 to play. Siler got loose on the blocks in the next ASU possession for an easy dunk and a Bowman free throw pushed the lead to four with 16 seconds to play. UCO answered with a Belt layup with three seconds left and a foul put Steve Smith on the free throw line. Smith, who led ASU with six assists in the game, missed both free throw attempts, but got in the way of the next UCO pass which caused a scramble for the ball. Luke Tambon ended up with it in his hands as the horn sounded.
“In the second overtime, it was just about perseverance,” said Metress. “It was a classic game.”
Augusta State becomes the first PBC team to win a game at the Elite Eight since Kennesaw State won the league’s only national championship in 2004. ASU is the fourth PBC team to appear in the Elite Eight.