AIKEN, S.C. – GRU Augusta forward Devon Wright-Nelson’s lay-in with less than five seconds on the clock lifted fifth-seeded GRU Augusta past fourth-seeded Anderson, 86-84, in quarterfinal action of the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Southeast Region Tournament, Saturday night at USC Aiken’s Convocation Center.
Just 12 seconds before Wright-Nelson’s game-winner, Anderson senior Chandler Hash’s fifth 3-pointer of the night capped a furious rally that saw the Trojans erase an 11-point second-half deficit to even the score at 84 apiece.
GRU Augusta improved to 24-7 on the season and advances to meet fifth-ranked and top-seeded USC Aiken in Sunday night’s semifinals. With the win, the Jaguars avenged an early-season loss at the hands of the Trojans, who finished their season with a 22-10 record.
Senior guard CJ Gleaton tallied a team-high 24 points and pulled down five rebounds, while senior guard Chandler Hash added 21 points, including 18 in the second half. Junior guard Myson Jones also posted 21 points and dished out a career-high 10 assists. Senior forward Kyle Sledge pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
Wright-Nelson finished with a game-high 28 points, while GRU Augusta senior Ryan Weems added 22 points. Junior Devonte Thomas chipped in 11 points for the Jaguars and senior Harold Doby grabbed a game-high 10 boards.
“I am extremely proud of our guys,” said Anderson head coach Jason Taylor. “You know how badly they wanted it. I agree [with Coach Metress] that both teams played very well. Credit [GRU Augusta] – they are really good. I have all the respect in the world for Coach Metress and his program. Defensively, I thought our guys did what we wanted them to. With [GRU Augusta] shooting the way they did and for us to hang in there punch-for-punch, I could not be more proud.”
“We just wanted to win. We worked pretty hard to get where we are,” added Jones.
After Hash dropped in a 3-pointer for the game’s first basket, the Jaguars countered with seven unanswered points over the next two minutes to claim an early 7-3 edge.
But in a preview of the contest’s final hectic moments, the Trojans battled back to take a brief 14-12 edge with 13:26 left in the first half on Jones’ trey. Later, GRU Augusta snapped a 24-24 deadlock – the fourth tie of the contest - with back-to-back 3-pointers, first from Thomas, then from Weems to take the largest lead by either team through the opening 20 minutes.
The Jags still led, 36-30, with just more than three minutes remaining in the opening frame, before the Trojans countered with a 9-2 outburst over the next 2:06 to take just their second lead since the opening moments of the contest, 39-38, as Gleaton fueled the comeback with four points. But GRU Augusta countered to close the half with four straight points to take a 43-39 lead to intermission.
Clinging to a one-point lead with 17:20 left in the game, the Jags posted a 14-4 surge to claim an 11-point advantage, the largest of the game. But AU refused to surrender and chipped away to pull within three on two occasions inside the final seven minutes of the contest, before Hash’s third trey of the game evened the score for the sixth time of the night at 71-71 with 3:34 on the clock.
The Trojans stayed close but were unable to wrest the lead away from GRU Augusta, as the Jaguars rebuilt an 81-76 edge with less than a minute remaining on a pair of free throws from Wright-Nelson. Jones connected on a 3-pointer and following two from the line by Weems, Gleaton drained a pair of free throws to pull the Trojans within 83-81 with 28 seconds left.
After Jaguar junior D’Angelo Boyce hit one-of-two from the line, Hash knocked down his fifth 3-pointer to knot the score at 84-84 at the 17-second mark. The Jaguars hurried the ball upcourt with Wright-Nelson dropping in the game-winner before Gleaton got one last attempt at the buzzer that caromed off the backboard.
“We knew coming out in the second half that we had to battle,” said Hash. “They are a great team. We knew we had to give our best effort. We came up a little short but we battled back in the second half.”