Jaguars reign in Peach Belt

By Chris Gay 
Staff Writer, Augusta Chronicle 

GREENWOOD, S.C. - As a freshman, a teary-eyed T.J. Ott watched as Georgia College & State cut down the nets after coming from behind to defeat Augusta State in the 1999 Peach Belt Conference championship game.

On Saturday, Ott was the one holding the scissors.

Ott and Gary Boodnikoff combined for 35 points as Augusta State won its first-ever Peach Belt
Conference tournament championship with a 60-46 win over regular-season champion Armstrong Atlantic State at Finis Horne Arena. The win sends the Jaguars to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time since 1978.

``It killed us to sit there and watch them cut the nets two years ago,'' Ott said. ``We just wanted it really, really bad. We put in a lot of hard work to finally win it all.''

Ott, Boodnikoff and Festus Hawkins were named to the conference all-tournament team. Ott led all scorers with 18 points, while tournament MVP Boodnikoff added 17 and Festus Hawkins 11. Russell Hinder had a team-high 11 rebounds and five assists.

The biggest surprise of the night was fifth-year senior Reggie Rosier. Rosier had a career-high nine points and came up with big play after big play, tipping in three missed shots and swishing a second-half 3-pointer.

``It feels real good because I've been here the longest on the team, even longer than the coach,'' Rosier said. ``I just felt I had to step up and do what I could to help the team out.''

The Jaguars were 1-5 in their past six road games and needed to win the conference tournament to take any possible bid out of the selection committee's hands. Now, the team is moving on to the 32-team Division II Tournament, which most likely will begin Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

``It's hard to talk about them, because they played so hard and gave so much. I'm so proud of these kids,'' Augusta coach Gary Tuell said. ``They've come so far since October.''

The key to Augusta's night was slowing down Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Robert Campbell, who averaged 14.9 points and 5.2 steals per game this season. Smothered by Jaguars guards Jayme Johnson and Boodnikoff, Campbell scored eight points with two assists.

In the first half, Augusta trailed 4-2, but Ott sparked a 17-2 run with a 3-pointer as the Jaguars bolted to a 19-6 lead. Later, Boodnikoff caught a deflected pass on the baseline and dunked to give the Jaguars a 16-point lead with 5:38 left before halftime.

The Pirates made just five first-half field goals and trailed by 16 at the break.

Campbell made a steal near midcourt and then converted a three-point play to pull the Pirates within 34-24. Later, Joel Lecoeuvre nailed a 17-foot jumper to cut the lead to eight with 11:24 left.

Hawkins then made a free throw and Rosier knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing. After an Armstrong free throw, Rosier tipped in a Hinder miss to give the Jaguars a 49-36 lead with 6:54 remaining.

With Augusta up 12, Boodnikoff made a free throw and added a layup. Then on a dish from Chris Harriman, Boodnikoff threw down a two-handed dunk. It was over at 56-39 with 3:14 remaining.

After the game, Boodnikoff said he still had not thought about the Division II Tournament.

``I don't think it will (sink in) until next week when we practice,'' he said. ``Jayme (Johnson) told me we had to practice and I said, `Oh no.'''

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