Jaguars top Clayton State

By Chris Gay 
Staff Writer, Augusta Chronicle 

GREENWOOD, S.C. - Much like last year, Clayton State gave Augusta State fits during the first round of the Peach Belt Tournament. Just like last year, Augusta State won the game.

The North Division's top-seeded Jaguars held off a second-half charge by the South's fourth-seeded Lakers and defeated Clayton State 79-68 at Finis Horne Arena on Thursday.

``I thought we played great for the first two minutes,'' Augusta State coach Gary Tuell said. ``After that, it was a struggle. I don't know why (Clayton) didn't win more games, because they've got great talent. I think if they would've beaten us today, they would've had an excellent chance of making it to the finals.

``I like our chances in this tournament. I like them a lot.''

Augusta State is one game away from the championship matchup. The Jaguars (18-9) will face familiar foe USC Aiken in the semifinals at 5 p.m. today. The two teams split their regular-season series.

``I guess I want to play Aiken because I like Mike Roberts, and he's my good friend,'' Tuell said. ``That would mean they won today. I'd be happy for Mike if they could win today.''

USC Aiken pulled off an 84-72 upset over North Florida in Round 1.

Augusta State shot 49 percent from the floor and out-rebounded Clayton State 43-27. Gary Boodnikoff scored 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, while T.J. Ott added 17 points and Festus Hawkins 12.

``I was excited to play,'' Boodnikoff said. ``I really wanted to play well. I was nervous, but I just wanted to shoot the ball well.''

Boodnikoff came out hot, scoring Augusta State's first five points as the Jaguars led 5-2. Later, Boodnikoff drained a 3-pointer from the left corner as the Jaguars built a 15-4 lead.

After Clayton State pulled to within seven, the Jaguars went running again. Chris Harriman capped a 22-10 Augusta State run with a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Jaguars a 39-20 lead late in the half. Augusta State took a 15-point lead at the break.

The Jaguars opened the second half with three turnovers and an offensive foul. Kareen Harris converted a three-point play to cap a 13-4 run as the Lakers pulled to within 47-41 with 13:18 remaining.

``In the first half, everything was going on emotion,'' Hawkins said. ``The second half, we just started settling down. I guess in the second half you saw Augusta State. The first half you saw the (Los Angeles) Lakers.''

On Augusta State's next possession T.J. Ott rebounded a Boodnikoff miss, made the layup as he was fouled and converted the free throw. Ott added four more points to build the lead back to 13.

Clayton State (9-18) twice cut Augusta State's lead to seven down the stretch but never got any closer. Augusta Sate, which made 25 of 37 shots from the free-throw line, hit 10 of 12 foul shots in the final 2:01 of the game.

``We missed more free throws today than we've missed in a month,'' Tuell said. ``We're an outstanding free-throw shooting team. And that hurt us.''

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