By Chris Gay
Staff Writer, Augusta Chronicle
When Augusta State men's basketball coach Gary Tuell underwent
an appendectomy Jan. 5, Buck Harris filled in.
The smooth transition under the assistant coach led to four straight Peach Belt Conference wins, keeping Augusta State at the top of the standings, and the Jaguars ended the regular season with their third straight North Division title.
With the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, Augusta won its first PBC Tournament title and qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament.
``When I had my appendectomy he won four games,'' Tuell said. ``We may not have gotten the No. 1 seed without him.''
Under Harris' guidance, Augusta State knocked off Columbus State, USC Spartanburg, UNC Pembroke and Lander for four important conference wins. The only loss while Tuell was out came against Paine College, a nonconference opponent.
Today, the Jaguars (20-9) make their first Division II postseason appearance in 23 years when they take on Catawba College (25-4) in the first round of the Division II Tournament at 6 p.m. at Brayboy Gymnasium in Charlotte, N.C. The game will be broadcast live on WBBQ 1340-AM.
``We're playing defense as good as we can right now,'' Jaguars guard Gary Boodnikoff said. ``Offense comes, but we're not shooting the ball real well. When everyone's hitting, we're unstoppable.''
Catawba has won eight straight games, including the South Atlantic Conference tournament. Six-foot-six, 200-pound guard Nedzad Gusic leads the team in points (15.3), rebounds (6.2) and assists (4.2). Forward Brian Carter (13.1) and guard Kevin Petty (10.4) average double figures in scoring, while freshman center Alex Luyk (6-9, 210) has a team-high 55 blocks. One of Catawba's biggest threats, 6-6 forward Terrance Hamilton, is out with a broken leg he suffered in late January.
Augusta State counters with 6-11, 270-pound center Festus Hawkins, the 6-7 Boodnikoff and 6-4 guard T.J. Ott. Hawkins has a team-high 16.9 points and averages eight rebounds per game, to go along with 66 blocks. Boodnikoff (15 ppg) is shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers, while Ott is scoring 13 ppg.
The Jaguars are No. 6 in the nation in free-throw percentage at a 76.3 clip - 78.5 percent in conference play - and No. 13 in scoring defense (64.7 ppg).
``We feel we can beat anybody when we play our best,'' Jaguars guard Jayme Johnson said. ``We just have to come ready to play.''