Jags pull away late in GCSU-AU men's tilt

Feb. 2—For the past two college basketball seasons, Augusta's men were playing at a different level from most in the Peach Belt Conference, including Georgia College & State University.

In 2023-24, however, when the two clubs met for the first time Wednesday at The Centennial Center, Augusta's Jaguars and the Bobcats were on the exact same level, 2-6 and part of a four-way tie for last place in the league.

Ryan Aquino's Bobcats were looking to continue their winning ways after an eight-game losing skid, but four of the Jaguars scored in double figures in a game that was much tighter than the 77-61 final. The top guy for Augusta, Ja'Queze Kirby of Hazlehurst, scored back-to-back 3-pointers late in the second half, one coming off his own steal at halfcourt. The Jaguars went from leading by one, 57-56, to seven and saw the Bobcats score just one more field goal the rest of the way. Virginia's Demitri Gardner, at the four-minute mark, sank another 3 for Augusta for the game's first margin of more than 10 points, 70-57.

Kirby had 22 points and Gardner 19. GCSU's Brandon Rigsbee had 16 points as the only one from his team in double figures.

The game was even in so many ways, both teams shooting 33% in the first half. But turnovers went well against the Bobcats with 11 to just six for Augusta. GCSU had better bench scoring as 10 players used by Aquino scored, the reserves getting 22 points.

Consistency on the offensive end was an issue. Bobcat forward Brady Spence had 12 rebounds but only four points, and those four were the first for his team on second shots. He added a high-low assist to Aidan Kudlas, giving him a three-point play.

Rigsbee added four points as GCSU jumped out to a 12-7 lead.

Aquino made the same five-for-five substitution, and AJ James was the usual offensive spark with a slam assisted by Luke Chism. But then Najhae Colon, a sophomore, stuck home a jumper. The starters were soon reinserted, and freshman Oscar Lynch beat the shot clock buzzer with a jumper for 19-12 Bobcats.

Even with the lead, GCSU was leaving too many points un-scored. Austin Sloan made his only 3-pointer of the game at the six-minute mark of the half giving the home team its widest margin at 22-14. But the Bobcats only got points at the foul line the rest of the way. Following turnovers and missed shots, the Jaguars found a way to even things up 23-23 at 1:50.

David Viti, a senior from Buford, hit Augusta's only 3-pointer of the half, but it would provide the go-ahead points for the break at 28-25.

Four minutes into the second half, Rigsbee made for a brand-new game tying the score at 33-33. Chism, with a 3-pointer, and Jake Mooney off the bench also scored tying baskets. The Bobcats did do the unthinkable Wednesday, two times missing dunks. Sloan made sure it wasn't three when he was on the receiving end of great ball movement against Augusta's press.

GCSU led 48-45 from that slam. Augusta's 5-0 run flipped that, but Richard Crawford III's only 3-pointer — a second shot provided by Chism — was good for one more Bobcat lead at 51-50.

The Jaguars reclaimed the advantage for the final time. After Gardner's 3-pointer made it 70-57, Augusta — going 12-for-15 at the foul line in the second half — scored the game's final seven points.