Jaguars are a 'can do' team

By Scott Michaux 
Columnist, Augusta Chronicle

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - First NCAA tournament appearance since 1978, and Augusta State was going in blindly.

You never would have known it.

"Somebody's got to play real good to beat us right now,'' said Augusta State coach Gary Tuell, who decries his club's disrespectful seeding of sixth. "We think we're pretty good.''

They were better than good Thursday night in Brayboy Gymnasium at Johnson C. Smith University. They were close to great. Just ask Catawba, the 96-84 victim in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

"This is a great basketball team,'' Tuell said. "It's a shame too many people missed out on it this year.''

The 150 or so diehard fans who followed Augusta State to Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday understood. This was a team determined to make history with the first NCAA Tournament win in the school's second appearance.

"It's contagious,'' said junior forward Russell Hinder. "You saw how many fans came here. Obviously it means something to them.''

Two days before tipoff, Tuell was a little worried because he didn't have any film of 15th-ranked Catawba. A coach without film to breakdown is like Linus without his blanket.

"We're kind of stuck without it,'' Tuell said Tuesday. "One of the things we do really well is prepare by using film. So I think we're going in a little bit short-handed.''

Relying on scouting reports from friends, Tuell fashioned an offense that ran almost on auto pilot. The 96 points was the second-highest total of the season for the Jaguars.

"I don't think it mattered what we had or didn't have,'' Tuell said of the film situation. "It mattered that we executed our stuff.''

Augusta State won't need any video of tonight's second-round opponent - Winston-Salem State. All the Jaguars need is their memory of last year's encounters with the Rams.

"They press us into submission,'' Tuell said. "Gary Boodnikoff's eyes were as big as paper plates. They were the best team we've ever played.''

They're also the same team this year.

"I just hope we've gotten better,'' Tuell said.

If Thursday is any indication, the Jaguars have. They've developed a perfect sense of who they are and what they can do.

"Some teams never get that feel but these guys are beginning to catch on,'' Tuell said.

Catawba left the backdoor open early and the Jaguars stole through the gate. Exploiting the inside of Catawba's defense, Augusta State converted an astonishing 13 of its first 17 shots (76.5 percent) to build an 18-point lead halfway through the first half.

When Catawba closed the gap to nine at intermission and six early in the second half, Augusta State never flinched. Any doubts?

"Naw,'' said Boodnikoff, the junior shooter from Australia who drained consecutive 3-pointers with less than six minutes remaining to break Catawba's will. ``We play like this. If it's not close, it's not Augusta State. Nothing fazes us.''

That's the attitude Boodnikoff, Festus Hawkins, T.J. Ott, Hinder, Jayme Johnson and mates need to take to the next level against Winston-Salem State.

"We played them twice last year, and we didn't get close,'' Tuell said. "We're going to have our hands full, obviously. But they will, too.''

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