No. 11 ranked Augusta will travel 61 miles tonight to Greenwood, South Carolina to take on Lander in a key Peach Belt Conference game. The Jaguars (19-3, 10-2) have won three straight, including two at home last week over No. 24 North Georgia and Georgia College. Lander (16-6, 8-4) snapped a two-game skid Saturday with a road win over USC Aiken.
Nineteen-year head coach Dip Metress said Tuesday morning during recording of his weekly YouTube show that he expects all five of the teams in the top half of the Peach Belt’s standings to be ranked in the top eight when the Southeast Region rankings debut soon. Those rankings will be important when the regular season and the conference tournaments (March 2-5) conclude because the top eight teams in the region will qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Focusing on only the next game
But Coach Metress was clear in emphasizing that the only thing on his mind right now is the next game, and that this singular focus will not change until the team’s final six regular season games have been played. Augusta (10-2) currently leads the Peach Belt Conference race, standing one game in front of North Georgia (9-3), and two ahead of Lander (8-4), Young Harris (8-4) and USC Aiken (8-4).
“From here forward, if we win our next game, we will have no reason to check the results around the conference,” Metress said. “Our goal is to win the regular season conference championship.”
Augusta defeated Lander 81-78 on January 11 at Christenberry Fieldhouse. Tyshaun Crawford, the conference’s leading scorer at 21.9 ppg, paced the Jaguars with 26 points. Miguel Arnold, the league’s third leading scorer at 17.0 ppg, added 23 as the Jaguars overcame a 14-point second half deficit to earn the victory.
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A matchup of contrasting styles
Metress pointed out Lander’s ability to penetrate the paint off the dribble, draw help, and find open three point shooters when questioned about what his team is prepared to see on defense. Lander shoots an average of 30 three pointers per game, compared to 20 for Augusta.
Of course the Jaguars prefer to start their offense by entering the ball into the post to take advantage of the presence of Crawford, the returning Peach Belt Conference Co-Player of the Year. The 7’1” senior center was named player of the week for the conference Monday after scoring 23 points in Wednesday’s win over North Georgia, and a career high 35 Saturday against Georgia College. Crawford made a combined 23 of 30 field goal attempts in the two games. And he showed off his soft shooting touch against Georgia College by scoring the 35 points without dunking the ball once.
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When Wednesday’s game ends the focus will turn to the team’s return home to Christenberry Fieldhouse, where the Jaguars will host Young Harris Saturday (3:30 P.M.) in a game that will be free for all who want to attend the school’s first “Break the Attendance Record Game.” Metress’s goal is to stuff 3,000 bodies into the home gym Saturday. I mention it here so fans can make plans, and because with Augusta’s “next game” mentality, you aren’t likely to hear anything from the players and coaches about it as they focus all their attention on tonight’s game against Lander.
Follow Chad Cook’s coverage of local sports on Facebook and Instagram at @AugustaPressSports, and on Twitter at @AugPressSports.