ANDERSON, S.C. – The fourth-seeded Anderson men’s basketball team will make its fourth appearance in five seasons in the Big Dance by squaring off against fifth-seeded GRU Augusta Saturday in the 2014 NCAA Southeast Regional, hosted by USC Aiken. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Pacers’ Convocation Center.
After a one-year absence from the tourney, Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup will pit the Trojans (22-9), who wrapped up the regular season in third place in the South Atlantic Conference regular season and finished last week’s conference tournament as runners-up, against GRU Augusta (23-7). Anderson and the Jaguars will square off to decide who will advance to meet the winner of the top-seeded USC Aiken vs. No. 8 seed Limestone contest scheduled to tip just prior to the AU vs. GRU contest on Saturday.
The Trojans outlasted GRU Augusta, 91-86, in the second game of the season earlier this year at Christenberry Fieldhouse, as senior guard Chandler Hash poured in a then career-high 42 points. Redshirt sophomore guard Myles Daniel added 15 points, while senior Kyle Sledge pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds. Guard Myson Jones dished out a team-best six assists. Jaguar senior forward KJ Sherrill led five Jaguars in double figures.
The early-season matchup marked the first meeting between the two teams since the Trojans upset the top-seeded and nationally third-ranked Jags, 75-73, in overtime in the finals of the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional.
Center Taylor Shugart scored 14 points and blocked the potential game-tying shot with two seconds left in overtime to help preserve that win. Guard Denzail Jones also scored 14 points. Oskars Ernsteins added 12 points and Brandon Young dished out seven assists for the Trojans. Trailing by three with exactly one minute remaining in regulation, Shugart hit one-of-two from the line to pull Anderson within two points with 43 seconds left. AU then sent Franck Ndongo, who had been a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line to that point, to the line. He missed both attempts and the Trojans’ Kevis Cornwell grabbed the second miss and hit a 12-foot jumper from the right side with 27 seconds remaining to tie the score at 69 and send game to overtime. Shugart scored four of Anderson’s six points in overtime, including a jumper in the paint with 1:13 on the clock that broke a 73-73 deadlock and proved to be the winning points. Augusta State had a chance to tie after Jones missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17 seconds left, but Shugart blocked ASU’s final attempt as time expired.
The Jaguars are making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but their first since falling to Anderson in the 2011 Southeast Region Championship. GRU Augusta has advanced to three Elite Eights and made an appearance in the national championship contest in 2008. The Jags won two of their final three contests this season, falling to Montevallo 96-87 in double overtime in the semifinals of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament.
GRU Augusta returned four of its five starters and eight letterwinners overall from a year ago, with guard Keshun Sherrill earning Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors earlier this month. He was third on the team in scoring with 11.4 ppg., while getting a starting nod in in 23 of the Jaguars' 28 games this year and was second on the team in assists. Sherrill led the team and was fourth in the PBC in free throw percentage and scored a career-high 22 points against Francis Marion.
Seniors KJ Sherrill and Ryan Weems were both named All-Conference, with Sherrill leading the squad in points, field goals, rebounds, and block shots. Weems earned his second consecutive conference honor while averaging 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Anderson owns a 6-3 record in three previous appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2011 and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012. The Trojans are 3-3 this season versus teams in the Southeast Regional - defeating GRU Augusta, splitting the regular-season series with Carson-Newman and also splitting the regular-season series with Lincoln Memorial before falling to the Railsplitters in the SAC Tournament Championship last Sunday.
The Trojans posted a seven-game win streak midway through the season en route to earning their fourth 20-win season in five years and have advanced to the tourney’s round of 32 teams with at least one victory in each of their three previous appearances in the Southeast Regional.
AU is led offensively by First-Team All-Region selection and two-time First-Team All-Conference honoree Hash. The 6-foot guard led the league and ranked fifth in the nation with his 24.4 points per game average and poured in a career-high 44 points in last Saturday’s SAC semifinal win past Coker, while following up with a 33-point effort in the championship setback to LMU. At the conclusion of the tourney, he was named conference tournament MVP. Hash’s school-record total 757 points this season is tops in the nation and the Greer, S.C., native has demonstrated his durability by starting 59 consecutive games and reaching double figures in 45 of 46 games, including 33 games with 20+ points. Hash is the reigning SAC Scholar-Athlete for men’s basketball and during the regular season, he was named to the Capital One Academic All-America Second-Team for his performance in the classroom, as well.
CJ Gleaton, another senior, averaged 16.4 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per contest, while staring 29 contests. He averaged a team-high 27.3 points during the three-game conference tournament, while also earning SAC All-Tournament recognition and being named Second-Team All-SAC following the regular season. The versatile guard posted a team-best nine double-doubles, including a career-best 32 points and pulled down 10 boards against Coker. Gleaton garnered double-digit points in 26 contests and scored more than 20 points on five occasions.
Jones tossed in 11.6 points per contest on the season and led the Trojans by dishing out 3.3 assists a game. The Aiken, S.C. native handed out a career-high eight assists in AU’s road win at Catawba in early January and notched a career-high 22 points against both Tusculum and Carson-Newman in February.
The Southeast Regional consists of four sessions and includes seven games over a four-day stretch. Nationally 18th-ranked and third-seeded Montevallo (24-5) and sixth-seeded Georgia Southwestern (20-10) will tip the event off at noon, while sixth-ranked and second-seeded Lincoln Memorial (27-2) and seventh-seeded Carson-Newman (19-8) continues quarterfinal play at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. At 5 p.m., fifth-ranked and top-seeded USC Aiken (29-3) and eighth-seeded Limestone (21-8) will square off before AU and GRU Augusta wrap up the first day’s action.
The Southeast Region tournament champion will advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, which will be held March 26-29 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Ind.
Tournament Central Website
Trojan NCAA Tournament Game Notes
NCAA Tournament Bracket