Thursday, December 29, 2016

Grovetown's Lady Warriors will meet Cross Creek's Lady Razorbacks one more time in 2016!

Basketball in 2016 will end with help from the final game in a series from what has become one of our area's best rivalries when Grovetown's Lady Warriors face Cross Creek's Lady Razorbacks in the championship game of the Monterrey Classic holiday tournament at Evans High.

Friday's 7:00 P.M. showdown, which will be broadcast on Facebook Live at the @AugBball Facebook page (assuming the internet cooperates), is the third meeting this season between the #4 ranked teams from class AAAAAA (Grovetown) and class AAAA (Cross Creek). It will also be the sixth meeting during this calendar year between the teams, which battled as region foes last season. Grovetown leads the 2016 series 3-2. Both teams have won every game played on their home court during that time.

Each team's current leaders have played in all five games, including Grovetown's Destiny Marshall (21 ppg); Ayana Collins (14 ppg, 11 rpg) and Elizabeth Metress (10 ppg, 4 apg); as well as Cross Creek's Alana Davis (17 ppg, 11 rpg); Nya Daniels (9 ppg, 5 apg); and Kianni Westbrook (8 ppg, 9 rpg). 

In a message sent after Thursday's 55-22 semifinal win over Effingham County, Grovetown coach Jamie Echols put into proper perspective  the healthy rivalry this matchup has become:

"Cross Creek has kind of replaced some other schools as our main rival. We have had some great battles with them in 2016 and all have been fun and played with good sportsmanship. They are as well coached as any team in the state and always bring out the best in us. It seems only fitting that they will be our final opponent of 2016."

The Lady Razorbacks topped Evans 59-42 in Thursday's semifinal round game.

The boys championship game, which tips off at 8:30 and will also air on @AugBball's Facebook Live feed, pits private school class A's #5 ranked team Aquinas against surprise opponent Grovetown.

Aquinas advanced past Evans in Thursday's semifinal round with a 57-48 victory. Junior Tre Gomillion scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead the Fighting Irish. 

Grovetown defeated region rival Lakeside 69-66 Thursday. The win was the Warriors' second of the season. But more importantly, the victory, which came one day after another solid win over Midland Valley, gives Grovetown momentum  heading into Friday's title game and next week's region opener.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hilley's clutch play sparks Lakeside's win over Effingham County

Brad Hilley scored in transition to give Lakeside a 63-60 lead Wednesday.

Lakeside's Brad Hilley led four Panthers who scored in double figures in Wednesday's 66-61 holiday tournament win over Effingham County at Evans High. Hilley finished with 17 points, including 3 three pointers, and Jalen Nealous added 16, Deon Berrien 13, and Kre'Sean Hall 12 for class AAAAAA's 10th ranked Panthers.

Lakeside trailed 50-42 in the fourth quarter before Hilley led a late push in which he tied the game twice, first at 53-53 with a three pointer from the left wing, and next at 56 all with another triple from the right corner. Finally, the 6'4" junior finished a drive in transition immediately after forcing an Effingham turnover to give Lakeside a lead for good at 62-59 with less than two minutes remaining.

Hilley's forced turnover in the fourth quarter set up his final bucket and Lakeside's win.

The Panthers (9-3) advanced to Thursday's semifinal round for a matchup against region rival Grovetown in a non league meeting. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tanksley leads Laney to a 62-59 win at Thomson

PJ Walker's 3 point conversion put Laney ahead of Thomson for good Tuesday. 

Laney's PJ Walker converted a three point play with 1:12 remaining to give his team a 57-54 lead before the Wildcats prevailed 62-59 on the road at Thomson in a non region contest Tuesday. Tahj Tanksley led all scorers with 27 points, including 7 three pointers. Donald Henley added 15 points in the win.

Tanksley, a senior, scored 19 second half points, including Laney's first 9 points of the third quarter when the Wildcats took a 40-35 lead. And after a 14-2 Thomson run that was punctuated by back-to-back dunks by Darius Turman and Radaren Johnson gave the Bulldogs a 49-42 lead at the end of three quarters, Tanksley answered with 10 points during an 11-3 Laney run that gave the Wildcats a 53-52 lead ahead of Walker's game sealing basket and free throw.

Tanksley had an answer for every Thomson run.

Laney improved to 7-3, while Thomson dropped to 3-5. Johnson led the Bulldogs with 22 points and Turman added 14.

Thomson's Radaren Johnson scored 22 points.

Laney is ranked #9 in class AA. Many people expected the Wildcats to struggle this season after losing two division 1 players to graduation. But Tanksley, Henley, Walker, Keonze Perkins and others are proving that their is still plenty of winning left in what has been the area's most successful program during this decade.

Laney visits Thomson in tonight's AugBball Game of the Night

Thomson hosts #9 Laney tonight in a non region game between two teams which consistently advance deep into the state playoffs and which both, until yesterday, have been featured all season in the top ten rankings of their respective classes. AugBball's Game of the Night coverage will include a full broadcast of the game on Facebook Live at the @AugBball channel. Also, highlights, updates, pictures, and interviews will be shared live on all of the @AugBball social media pages.

Laney has weathered nicely the graduation of star players Christian Keeling and Zep Jasper (who have progressed to division 1 college programs) to start the season 6-3. The Wildcats remained the #9 class AA team in Sunday's release of GHSA expert Kyle Sandy's tally of the state's best teams after coach Shaun Parks's squad fell to #2 Josey 46-43 in the championship game of the Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine College Wednesday.

Thomson (3-4) dropped from the class AAAA rankings for the first time Sunday after losing games by large margins to Northwood and Sumter in the Savannah River Shootout Christmas Classic at North Augusta High School.

Flashback to last season's duel

When these teams met a year ago, Keeling (Charleston Southern), Jasper (The College of Charleston), and Thomson's San Antonio Brinson (NJIT) made for three division 1 players duking it out in a game that Laney won 55-51 and that neither team ever led by more than 5 points. Keeling (23 points) and Jasper (20 points) led the way for the Wildcats.

Christian Keeling slaps hands with assistant coach William Cunningham in his final home game.

Laney would finish the season 26-3, losing in the AAA state quarterfinals before falling to state champion Morgan County. Thomson finished 19-9 and lost to St Pius in the second round of the AAAA state tournament.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Top 5 Plays from the Cavs vs Warriors Christmas Day Classic

Sunday's game was so good that this dunk didn't even make my top 5 plays list!

In chronological order, here are AugBball's top 5 plays from the Christmas Day instant classic between two teams locked in a rivalry unlike any we've seen since the Lakers and Celtics went at it in the 1980's!

The best sequence of NBA possessions since that from game 7 of last season's Finals, which started with Lebron James's block on Andre Iguodala and ended with Kyrie Irving's series winning three, came during this 15 second long 6 point streak which featured the world's two best players answering each other twice before anybody could catch their breaths.

This nifty Lebron James finish followed by a sprint-back-on-defense-block to close the half was the second Christmas day play (the first is above) that reminded of last season's NBA Finals classic moments, which included the lob James caught off the feed from Irving after James had gone to the floor to grab a loose ball.

Speaking of reminders from last season's Finals, when Kyrie Irving tipped in his own miss after sticking All-NBA power forward/"death lineup" center Draymond Green deep beneath the rim, I flashed back to my wonderment at the genuinely unbelievable variations in which Irving can score, especially at his size, over ANYBODY who dares guard him without A LOT of help!

I only have five places to fill, and the game's excitement is best illustrated by my NOT putting one of Richard Jefferson's poster dunks over Golden State's pair of All-NBA wings into my top 5!

I had to make room for Lebron James's baseline to baseline dash which left .3 seconds left on the third quarter clock. The human freight train inbounded the ball with 3.9 seconds remaining under his own basket, sprinted to get the shovel pass back from his teammate, and got all the way to the rim and drew a foul on an attempted dunk over Kevin Durant. All in 3.6 seconds!

The only problem is I can't find that clip! So I'll go with Lebron's go ahead dunk after the feed by Irving, who simply picked apart the Warriors down the stretch (And I have no interest in whether or not James should have been called for a technical foul. Other than I think it was right that he wasn't):

Of course, the play of the game was Kyrie Irving's fade away over 6'7" Klay Thompson after Irving had created absolutely no advantage off the dribble but somehow still was able to make a shot over a guy with a height advantage of a half of a foot!

PS - Was Kyrie Irving the best post player in the game? In addition to stuffing Green beneath the rim and making the sweet fade away above, he made this sweeping hook over Durant.

The things Irving did in last season's Finals and in today's game are every bit as awe inspiring as the things Curry did the last two seasons when most of us lost our minds watching him play!

What a game!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Area hoops figures Siler, Quarles, and Shine lead by example with giving ways

For the fifth consecutive year, long time friends Garret Siler and Jamie Quarles, teammates during Augusta University's most successful period of basketball dominance, orchestrated the delivery of free holiday meals Saturday to families across the area. Dozens gathered behind the Publix on Washinton Road near the Augusta National, forming the "Big G Foundation delivery team," to deliver more than 100 turkey dinners to families in need.

The foundation has Siler and Quarles as board members. And the duo uses the proceeds from Siler's annual basketball camp, which is held every summer for a week, to help fund part of the total cost of the meals.
Siler and Quarles had lots of help from Jaguar supporters Saturday. 

The two first met as teammates on the basketball team at Richmond Academy before becoming Jaguars. "We graduated in 2004. Been besties since," Quarles texted Saturday after the end of the event Siler called a "record setting success."

Siler has played professionally, including a run with the Phoenix Suns, for the almost ten years since finishing at Augusta University. Quarles is in his sixth season as Augusta's assistant coach.

Darrin Shine saw a need and met it in overwhelming fashion

Darrin Shine has distributed 1,500 pairs of sneakers during the past three holiday seasons.

Another Richmond Academy graduate, Darrin Shine, also has a several year long streak of providing people with something extra special during the holidays. Three years ago Shine, who starred on the hardwood at Delaware State and led the Hornets to an NCAA tournament appearance in 2005, noticed something about the children he has worked with doing his job at the Augusta Recreation and Parks Department:

"I'm pretty much a sneaker head. So when the kids saw me with different sneakers on, they would always ask me can they have my sneakers. Or I would hear them say things like they wish their parents can afford those sneakers," Shine explained.

After one of the children came one day to the recreation center with no shoes, Shine brought him a pair of his to keep the following day. That was when the idea hatched for the "Kickz 4 Kidz Sneaker Give Away," which just saw its third year. Shine has helped put sneakers in the hands of more than 1,500 children already.

"I reach out to all my peers, friends, and family, and see if they have any old sneakers that they would like to donate for the cause. For the most part, most people do. Some go as far as buying new ones," Shine told me in a message Saturday.

In addition to his charity work and his job as a program coordinator at the Carrie Mays Community Center, Shine spends many of the hours the rest of us use for sleep at a 2,000 square foot facility on Perkins Road training aspiring basketball players.

Men like Shine, Siler, and Quarles are great representatives of our basketball community. And their deeds are the kinds that give the Christmas season its reputation for inspiring giving and service to others.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Collins leads North Augusta to tournament title and 10-1 start

Tez Collins slammed home North Augusta's championship game win Wednesday.

North Augusta scorched the nets to the tune of 11 made three pointers, scoring 60 points in the final three quarters on the way to a 73-59 win over Northwood in the championship game of the Savannah River Shootout Christmas Classic. The Yellow Jackets improved to 10-1 before breaking for Christmas behind 20 points from junior Tez Collins, who was named to the all tournament team, and 17 from senior Derius Copeland, the MVP of the eight team tournament.

Collins displayed a wide range of offensive skills by burying four first half threes, and also isolating and blowing past helpless defenders on the perimeter to score at the rim. Finally, he put an exclamation point on an emotional night fueled by a rowdy and highly supportive home crowd when he threw down a striding two handed dunk late in the fourth quarter.

Derius Copeland was named the tournament's MVP.

Coach Tony Harrell supplied me the statistics to reinforce my gut feeling that the Yellow Jackets may be the best shooting team around. Already this season North Augusta has made 16 threes pointers in a game, 13 threes in another, and 11 on two different occasions. 

North Augusta's Lady Yellow Jackets claim tournament crown and a 13-0 start to the season

Mya Burns's 12 third quarter points helped break open Wednesday's championship game.

North Augusta sophomore Mya Burns scored 12 third quarter points to help the Lady Yellow Jackets grab a 40-28 lead over Northwood before coasting through the final quarter to claim a 47-36 win and the Savannah River Shootout Christmas Classic crown in their home gym Wednesday. Junior Amari Young, an all-tournament selection, led the way with 15 points. Burns added 14, all in the second half.

Junior Sarah Crews, another all-tournament pick, made several momentum changing plays on the defensive end, which coach Crystal Cummings commented on in our post game interview. As did sophomore Aaliyah Bell, who took home the tournament MVP award.

Junior Sarah Crews hawked Northwood's ball handlers throughout Wednesday's win.

The Lady Yellow Jackets take a perfect (13-0) record, earned against the most difficult schedule any area team on the girls or boys side has played, into the break. The team is young, extremely skilled and athletic, and very well coached.

Amari Young has grabbed 4 steals per contest to go with her 14 points and 12 rebound averages.

When Northwood packed in a 2-3 zone and shaded Young, who entered the game averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds per game, Young and Burns picked apart the defense with a pair of high-low post connections for easy scores. Burns and Crews then made the necessary threes to lure the defense from the paint. And Crews consistently made life difficult for Northwood's guards with tenacious full court, man-to-man defense.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Coming soon at AugBball - Full highlights and reports from North Augusta's girls and boys championship round sweep

Wednesday's Championship Game News

Tez Collins eyes a driving lane in Wednesday's win

North Augusta Sweeps Savannah River Shootout Christmas Tournament championship games

Sarah Crews was a defensive force in North Augusta's win.

The Lady Yellow Jackets, the area's most impressive team this season so far, topped Northwood 47-36 to win the tournament title and improve to 13-0. I will have full highlights, an AugBball story, pictures, and a post game interview posted at by Thursday night.

Collins put an exclamation point on Wednesday's win.

Junior Tez Collins led the boys team's 73-59 charge to a win over Northwood and a Jacket championship with 20 points on a barrage of three pointers and an exclamation point of a dunk in transition. The Jackets are 10-1 and have been red hot much of the season.

Like the report from the girls game, I will have full highlights, an AugBball story, pictures, and a post game interview posted at by Thursday night.

Laney (girls) and Josey (boys) took the Holiday Roundball Classic crowns. Watch the replay from AugBball's Facebook Live feed here:

Josey upends Laney 46-43

Laney's Lady Wildcats top Richmond

North Augusta, Laney, South Aiken, Richmond and Josey headline Wednesday's AugBball four part holiday tournament championship gamecoverage

***Special note: In the preview below, I originall and mistakenly placed South Aiken as North Augusta's opponent tonight in the championship game of the holiday tournament. Northwood is the correct opponent. I'm very sorry!

Josey's Javen Whitehead will try to spoil the fun for rival Laney in Wednesday's title game.
AugBball will bring live four part coverage of the championship games of the area's two major holiday tournaments to high school hoops fans via the @AugBball Facebook page Wednesday evening. The "quadruple feature" contains everything from state championship contenders to long time rivals squaring off with bragging rights at stake:

7:00 P.M.: 2nd Annual Savannah River Shootout Girls Championship Game
North Augusta Lady Yellow Jackets vs Northwood
- Live highlights and updates via @AugBball on Facebook

7:00 P.M.: 17th Annual Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine
Laney Lady Wildcats vs Richmond
- Broadcast live on the @AugBball Facebook page with play-by-play man Charles "the Mac Daddy" McNeil

8:30 P.M. 2nd Annual Savannah River Shootout Girls Championship Game
North Augusta vs Northwood
- Live highlights and updates via @AugBball on Facebook

8:30 P.M. 17th Annual Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine
Laney vs Josey
- Broadcast live on the @AugBball Facebook page with play-by-play man Charles "the Mac Daddy" McNeil

The area's most likely state title contenders tip off at 7:00 P.M.

North Augusta hasn't been unbeaten and nearly unchallenged this season.

This area's two best high school teams, North Augusta's Lady Yellow Jackets and Laney's Lady Wildcats, each overwhelming favorites to win this season's state championship in their respective classes, tip off in championship game action at 7:00 P.M.

Laney's senior starters: Aubriana Bonner, Jasmine Bartlett, and Jhessyka Williams.

Class AA's top ranked team, Laney, which is led by junior De'sha Benjamin and seniors Aubriana Bonner and Jhessyka Williams, will face Richmond, led by Troy signee Jasmine Robinson, in the title game of the 17th Annual Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine College.

North Augusta (12-0) has beaten the best teams on the Georgia side of the border (Grovetown twice, Cross Creek twice, and Laney once) by an average margin of 11 points during the non region portion of their schedule.

Rivalry games close the evening

Josey and Laney's rivalry goes back further than most of us can remember. Class AA's #7 ranked Eagles stormed back from a double digit second half deficit Tuesday to top Glenn Hills in double overtime after Dominique Hurst nailed a 16 footer to tie the game at 56 with 45 seconds remaining, and buried two free throws with 17 seconds left to give his team the lead for good.

Laney's Tahj Tanksley has scorched the nets for the Wildcats this season.

#9 Laney reached the title game by blowing out #8 Butler Tuesday in a win that partially avenged the Bulldogs' 75-72 region win over the Wildcats Friday.

South Aiken's Melvin Mckie will aim to defend his team's 2015 tournament title Wednesday. 

If you don't follow @AugBball on Facebook, now is the time to start. Coverage like tonight's is a staple during hoops season. The Facebook live broadcasts are new to the mix, but a scroll through the timeline will make it obvious that AugBball has the area hoops scene covered like a blanket!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ahmed Hill, Christian Keeling, Laney, Josey, and Richmond headline Tuesday's great showcase of Augusta basketball

Aquinas graduate Ahmed Hill scored 20 points to lead Virginia Tech to an 87-59 over Charleston Southern Tuesday. The game was the third consecutive time the sophomore has scored 20 or more for the 10-1 Hokies. Laney graduate Christian Keeling led Charleston Southern with 24 points, a career high for Keeling, who already has won two Big South Conference Freshman of the Week awards in his first month playing college basketball.

Many of Augusta's most devoted hoops fans watched closely as two of this decade's best local players squared off. David Beard, a Glenn Hills graduate, posted on Facebook this clip from the game, which tells of the many times the ESPNU announcers showered praise on our hometown heroes:

Meanwhile in Augusta, Keeling's alma mater Laney's girls and boys teams marched to Wednesday's title game at the Holiday Roundball Classic

Thousands of people (if Facebook's stats are accurate) watched @AugBball's Facebook Live broadcasts of Laney's girls and boys teams advance past Hephzibah and Butler, respectively, to Wednesday's Holiday Roundball Classic championship games at Paine.

The Lady Wildcats, the state's top AA team, knocked off Hephzibah 71-61 behind 25 points from Aubriana Bonner, 18 by De'sha Benjamin, and 13 by Jhessyka Williams. Temple signee Emani Mayo scored 26 points and her sister Nicolette Mayo added 18 for the Lady Rebels in defeat.

Laney will face Richmond in Wednesday's 7:00 P.M. championship game after Jasmine Robinson led the Lady Musketeers to a 56-46 win over Aiken by scoring 35 points Tuesday.

Laney's boys top Butler to earn a spot opposite arch rival Josey in Wednesday's championship round

Laney sprinted out to a huge lead over Butler, then weathered a Bulldog comeback, and finally extended a second half lead to coast to a semifinal win that avenged a loss to the Bulldogs suffered only four days ago. The Wildcats' reward is a showdown with Josey, which overcame a double digit deficit to top Glenn Hills in double overtime Tuesday.

Senior Dominique Hurst scored four points in the final minute to lead the Eagles to the 59-56 win:

Hurst's heroics were made possible only after teammate John Williams's prayer was answered when he banked in a three pointer just before the fourth quarter buzzer sounded to tie the game and force overtime:

Monday, December 19, 2016

#8 Butler tops #7 Richmond in tournament quarterfinals; AugBball coverage plans for Semfinal round at Paine

Richmond's DT Stephens tries to finish in Monday's game.

Junior Drez McBride's 16 points and Butler's 10 total threes made by 5 different players propelled the Bulldogs to a 72-65 win over Richmond Monday in the quarterfinal round of the Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine College. Senior Jerry Leverette scored 12 points, all on made three pointers, three of which he drained during the first half while the Bulldogs sank 9 triples before intermission.

McBride sliced through the lane in the third quarter and threw down a striding left handed dunk to give Butler a 54-36 advantage. Richmond's Jason Weaver (18 points), DT Stephens (17 points), and Moses Williams then led a comeback attempt that brought the Musketeers to within 3 points of the Bulldogs with less than a minute remaining when Weaver's free throw made the score the 68-65.

But senior Will Lambert blocked Stephens's attempt to further reduce the deficit and time ran out on the Musketeers, which fell for the third straight time against a ranked AA opponent. The win helped set up an all AA final four at Paine. Tuesday's semifinal round features four teams ranked at one time in the past weeks in the top ten in GHSA expert Kyle Sandy's statewide tally of the Georgia High School Association's best AA teams.

#8 Butler faces #9 Laney at 8:30 in the evening's final game

This is a rematch of Butler's 75-72 region win Friday at Laney. The other semifinal matchup pits #7 Josey, a winner Monday over Hephzibah, against Glenn Hills, which spent several weeks in the top 10, including time in the third slot, before losses to Lakeside, Butler, and Laney knocked the Spartans off of the latest weekly list.

Laney's Aubriana Bonner drives to the basket in Monday's win at Paine.

The girls semifinal games include a 4:00 P.M. matchup between Richmond and Aiken and a 7:00 duel between Laney, the state's top AA team, and Hephzibah, which features twin guards Emani Mayo, who has signed with Temple, and Nicollette Mayo.

The Lady Wildcats, along with North Augusta's Lady Yellow Jackets, are playing better than any high school team. Junior Desha Benjamin and senior Aubriana Bonner combined to score 57 points in Saturday's 85-66 win over Mays, which entered the game ranked #2 in class AAAAAA.

Tuesday's AugBball Coverage Plans

Highlights and updates will be shared from the @AugBball Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts during Josey's matchup with Glenn Hills. The Laney-Hephzibah girls game and the Laney-Butler boys game will be broadcast live on Facebook at the @AugBball Facebook page. More news is coming regarding the Facebook Live broadcasts, which are new to the mix.

#7 Richmond vs #8 Butler Matchup Headlines Monday's Full Slate of Holiday Tournament Games

Butler's Deandre Barton is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds this season.
Interest in our area's high school basketball teams has exploded. The evidence is everywhere. Last night Kyle Sandy of Sandy's Spiel published his fifth installment weekly rankings for Georgia High School Associations boys teams, and no fewer than 8 of the approximately 20 teams that I follow made the top 10 lists for their respective classes.

Apologies for the blurry pic, but these are the boys matchups at Paine.

In today's quarterfinal round of the 17th Annual Holiday Roundball Classic at Paine College, class AAAA's #7 ranked Richmond Academy faces class AA's #8 ranked Butler at 2:30 in the AugBball Game of the Day. The matchup is one of eight games involving 6 boys and girls teams featured in Sandy's most recent top ten tallies.

Apologies for the blurry pic, but these are the girls matchups at Paine.

At the same time, the Savannah River Shootout Christmas Classic at North Augusta High School features two more ranked boys teams from Georgia along with what I believe to be the two best girls teams in South Carolina, Sumter High and the host North Augusta Lady Yellow Jackets.

Apologies for the blurry pic, but these are the matchups at North Augusta.

Butler aims to carry forward recent momentum

Butler's Drez McBride scored 23 points in Friday's 75-72 win at Laney.

Butler recently navigated quite the obstacle course when coach Cervantes Boddy's team won two of three road games against ranked region rivals in an eight day period. 6'2" Senior Deandre Barton, the early favorite for player of the year honors, averaged 24 points and 15 rebounds during a difficult stretch which set up nicely the Bulldogs when region play resumes after the holidays. After winning at (then) #3 Glenn Hills and #9 Laney, and nearly topping #8 Josey, the Bulldogs have gotten out of the way all of their regular season visits to the town's most hostile environments. 

But don't expect Butler to lessen its focus for today's non region matchup with the Musketeers. "I coach and we play to win every game," coach Boddy told me in a text after I asked if he would rest players after last week's difficult stretch of league games.

Richmond's aim today will be to earn its first win over a ranked AA team after dropping recent games to Glenn Hills and #9 Laney. The practice will come in handy when the Musketeers begin region play because region opponents #5 Thomson and #10 Burke County, which are both playing this week at North Augusta, join Richmond on the class AAAA top ten list. And Baldwin, another region opponent, may soon make that list too after impressive early season results against high profile teams.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Miller and Sherrill add to sensational senior seasons

USMMA's Matt Miller scored 26 points to lead the Mariners to a victory Saturday.

USMMA's Matt Miller, who played his high school ball in Augusta for the GAIS Eagles homeschool team, expressed optimism about his team's fortunes in a recent AugBball interview that I posted after a hot individual start to his senior season. At the time, the 1,000 point scorer was coming off of a 29 point outburst against SUNY Maritime, but his Mariners had managed only one win in their first seven games. He described how the team was missing players due to injury and the special "sea term" all USMMA sophomores and juniors take that collides with the beginning stages of basketball practice every season.

"We finally have everybody back and playing together. I think it just takes some time to get used to playing with each other and getting some rhythm," Miller said when I asked him if his spirits were still high despite the early losses.

Click here to see the full highlights and story of Miller's game winner and 20 point outing versus rival Coast Guard.

Matt's patience seems to be paying off because after one more loss following our interview, USMMA has run off three consecutive victories, including Saturday's 87-86 overtime win over Widener in which Miller scored 26 points while making 9 of his 13 field goals, including 6 of his 8 threes. The left handed guard who is averaging 19 points per game made all 6 of his second half field goal attempts.

Miller converts a pair of first half buckets in Saturday's win over Widener.

Matt's maturity and his consistency through the ups and downs of this season reveal his steadfast character. He has been among the team's leaders since arriving on campus. When the Mariners resume play in January, I won't be surprised if the team continues to build on its recent success.

Sherrill scores 42 at North Georgia but Augusta still searches for first conference win

A video posted by Augusta University Athletics (@augustajags) on

Another consistent leader who is in the middle of a remarkable senior campaign, Augusta University's Keshun Sherrill, will try to help his team bounce back from Friday's 102-93 loss at North Georgia when the Jaguars visit Columbus State Monday at 7:30 (live stream link) in the second leg of a Peach Belt Conference opening pair of road games before the team breaks for the holidays.

Sherrill scored a season high 42 points in Friday's loss, making 14 of 25 field goals, 5 of 10 threes, and 9 of 12 free throws. The 5'8" All American and All Peach Belt Conference guard has scored more than 20 points in every game except one this season. And his shooting percentages are mind boggling, making 51% of his field goals, 48% of his threes, and 88% of his free throws on 9 attempts per game.

Augusta (7-2, 0-1) and Columbus State (6-1, 0-1) will both try to notch their first conference win Monday after the Cougars dropped a game to Flagler over the weekend.

Hometown Heroes Hill and Keeling to Meet Tuesday Fresh Off Standout Performances Saturday

Aquinas graduated Ahmed Hill is Virginia Tech's second leading scorer at 14 ppg.

Aquinas graduate (2014) Ahmed Hill, now a Virginia Tech sophomore, scored 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in a 113-71 win over The Citadel Saturday:

The win was the Hokies' fifth straight and the second consecutive game in which Hill burned the nets as the 6'4" guard scored 20 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in last Sunday's win over Ole Miss. Hill is averaging 14 points and 4 rebounds per game, and he is living up to teammate Seth Allen's nickname for him, "Money Med," by making 29 threes at a 47% clip so far this season.

Ahmed was Georgia's third all time leading scorer in high school. And he is the only player to be named the Augusta Chronicle Player of the Year two times. Virginia Tech will begin its ACC schedule on New Year's Eve against Duke, which many believe is college basketball's best team. But the Hokies play two more non conference games before the Blue Devils visit Blacksburg for a game that is already sold out. The first of those contests is Tuesday when another hometown hero and the most recent Augusta Chronicle Player of the Year*, Christian Keeling (Laney, 2016), visits Hill and the Hokies with his Charleston Southern Buccaneers for a 9:00 P.M. matchup that will be broadcast on ESPNU.

*Keeling won last season's award along with teammate Zep Jasper, who is playing a season at Notre Dame Prep before enrolling at the College of Charleston next Fall.

Keeling Continues his Roll, Scoring 19 Points in a Loss at Georgia

Click here for CSU's photo reel from the UGA game, which has many pictures of Augusta's Christian Keeling.

Christian Keeling, who has already been named the Big South Conference Freshman of the Week, scored 19 points Saturday in Charleston Southern's 84-64 loss at Georgia. Keeling is the team's second leading scorer at 14.3 points per game, and his per game averages of 6.1 rebounds and 5.2 free throw attempts lead the team.

I have been pleasantly surprised by Christian's ability to immediately translate his excellence at attacking the basket at the high school level to the division I setting. His success scoring, rebounding, and getting fouled mirrors what he was able to do at Laney. And his 37% three point shooting so far this season completes the statistical story of Keeling's complete game that he has shown in his first month of college action.

Another story about Keeling that tells why he is loved by so many

Christian is beloved by Augusta's basketball fans for good reasons. He has shared so many of his emotions with us during his hoops journey, which included 3 trips to the state tournament semifinals, another to the quarterfinals, and recognition by as class AAA's player of the year in Georgia during his senior season. Along the way his faith and spirit have been tested by some of life's most difficult hardships. And he has persevered in ways that we all would hope to be able to emulate. When I asked him in a text recently if he is doing as well in school as he is on the court, his response was consistent with everything I've seen and heard about him throughout the past 5 years: "Yes I have A's and B's. God and education come before everything," Christian told me.

That text exchange finished with something funny and true about his former coach Buck Harris, whose imprint is still felt by Keeling nearly two years after he played his last game under Harris at Laney. The text refers to Harris's joy at seeing Christian taking a charge, shown in the highlights above, in his first college game. And it also refers to Keeling's former teammate Ja'Shawn Brooks, who also learned from Harris how to sacrifice his body for the good of the team:

Christian has obviously taken a big piece of Augusta basketball's fiber with him to Charleston. I like to believe has Hill done the same thing in his move to Blacksburg. I'll watch as two of the decade's finest local players square off Tuesday, as I'm confident so many of you will too!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lakeside opens region play with a 62-57 win over rival Greenbrier

Deon Berrien scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Lakeside's win.

Lakeside sprinted to a double digit lead on rival Greenbrier's home floor and withstood a fourth quarter Wolfpack run to earn a 62-57 region win in front of a capacity crowd and two very supportive student sections full of screaming fans. Deon Berrien scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds despite sitting for much of the first half due to foul trouble. And fellow senior Kre'Sean Hall added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Greenbrier was led by junior Austin Canaday, whose 20 points led all scorers.

Berrien, Hall, and sophomore Kalen Williams, who scored 15 points, took turns making plays during the second half, answering Greenbrier, which was finding their offensive rhythm after scoring only 18 points in the first two quarters and trailing by 10 at the break. Leading 39-34 after three quarters, the Panthers took a 50-40 lead with 4:57 remaining after Berrien found Hall for a layup in transition.

Kre'Sean Hall tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds Friday.

Canaday and Richard Crawford III, who scored 14 points, led a spirited comeback that cut the deficit to as few as 3 points in the final minute. But the Panthers were able to make timely plays to keep the Wolfpack at bay.

Austin Canaday led all scorers with 20 points in Friday's loss.

Lakeside gained its original cushion during a first half spurt that senior Jalen Nealous initiated with 7 consecutive points to start the second quarter that gave the Panthers their first lead at 15-10. After Nealous got things started, Hall, Williams, junior Brad Hilley, and sophomore Tucker Gilbert would all contribute to help Lakeside build a 28-18 lead at halftime.

Lakeside (8-3, 1-0) will take a break for Christmas before taking on Effingham County in the quarterfinals of the holiday tournament at Evans on December 28. Greenbrier (3-9, 0-1) travels to South Aiken tonight before resting until January.

Friday, December 16, 2016

League play is in focus Friday night as Greenbrier and Lakeside will battle with much more than a county rivalry at stake

In addition to Augusta University's Peach Belt Conference schedule opening double-header at North Georgia, which I previewed here, AugBball's focus Friday will be on a key high school region matchup which could figure significantly in the final regular season standings even though we are only in the first week of league play.

Lakeside visits Greenbrier in a rivalry game when records will mean little

Local hoops followers have called this game both a matchup of great sophomore guards, Lakeside's Kalen Williams and Greenbrier's Richard Crawford III, and a battle to see which team is the "king of Columbia County."

I agree that seeing Williams and Crawford play at the same time will be fun. But I believe this class AAAAAA, region 3 opener is about so much more than an individual matchup. And Lakeside and Greenbrier have much loftier ambitions than being the best in their five school county. Both have shown as much in pre-conference play. And both have opportunities to prove they should be considered in discussions involving the state's better teams, not their county's.

Despite their much different non-conference schedules, Lakeside (7-3) and Greenbrier (3-8) should be very evenly matched.

Lakeside tipped off the season against class AA #3 Butler.

Both coaches set out this season to test their teams in the opening month of non league play. Lakeside has had more success in the win column, splitting games with Josey and beating Laney and Glenn Hills after losing a close game at Butler on opening night. All four opponents have been ranked, or soon will be ranked, in class AA's top ten according to GHSA expert Kyle Sandy

Greenbrier played the same four teams in an eight day period. After coming a Donald Henley buzzer beating game winner away from topping Laney in the Wolfpack Challenge Tip-Off tournament, coach Casey Heckathorn's team dropped its games against the other three area powerhouses by 5, 7, and 8 points.

These results will mean nothing when the region tournament comes in February. But if I am correct that Greenbrier and Lakeside are the two teams most likely to challenge Heritage, class AAAA's #5 team, for their league's crown, the team that goes into, and exits, the region tournament with the league's #1 or #2 position will be much more likely to advance in state tournament play. And tonight's head-to-head result will factor significantly into that equation.

The excitement surrounding Williams vs Crawford III is warranted

Lakeside's Kalen Williams and Greenbrier's Richard Crawford III have been producing results for their teams for what seems like so long a time that I sometimes take for granted their abilities, especially given their ages. And although the play of their teammates has been, and will continue to be, equally important to their teams' fortunes, it is worth considering the statistics they've compiled already in the first month of their sophomore seasons.

Williams leads the Panthers in scoring with 19 points per game. And he has produced those points shooting fewer than 10 times per game! The guard who is probably best known by his peers for shaking defenders out of their shoes with his changes of direction off the bounce has made a remarkable 67% of his two point field goals and 43% of his threes this season. And he has gone to the free throw line almost as many times (92 attempts so far, including 17 in the opener at Butler) as he has shot from the field (97 attempts).

Williams from 12 months ago when he burst onto the scene with monster games against Westside and Lincoln County:

Williams's sophomore season shooting statistics are no fluke. As a freshman he was the only area player to post shooting percentages similar to Augusta Chronicle Co-Players of the Year Zep Jasper and Christian Keeling when he made 58% of his two's and 40% of his threes while averaging 14 points per game. The biggest change this season has been his ability to get to the foul line. Last season he attempted 76 free throws, and he has already surpassed that amount in the first month of his sophomore campaign.

Crawford III has added every bit as much to his impressive freshman year showing in the first month of his sophomore campaign as has Williams. Greenbrier's leader is scoring 16 points per game, compared to just under 10 a season ago. And he has already made nearly twice the number of free throws (51) this season as he did all of last year.

"We gave him a free throw goal of 8 per game this season, and he has hit that in 8 of 10 games so far," coach Heckathorn told me Thursday. Crawford led Greenbrier in important wins over region opponents last season, including 17 points in a win over Cross Creek and 22 in another over Lakeside. And he nearly willed the Wolfpack to a season opening victory over Laney last month.

But framing Friday's game as an individual matchup is misleading

Lakeside's senior duo of Deon Berrien and Kre'Sean Hall both average double-doubles, with Berrien clocking in at 16 points and 12 rebounds per game and Hall at 13 points and 11 boards. Both players have logged monster statistical nights in emotional wins over highly regarded opponents. Berrien scored 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win over Laney and 27 and 11 in the victory over Glenn Hills. And Hall tallied 27 points and 14 rebounds against the Spartans.

Greenbrier's most important contributions alongside Crawford III's have come from junior Austin Canaday and senior David Harris, whom Heckathorn rightly calls "Mr. Intangible" because his effectiveness is not fully captured by the most common statistics. After sitting out last season with an injury, Canaday's 13 points per game has helped Greenbrier to not miss a beat after the graduation of key players from last season's 14-12 team. And Harris, who leads the Wolfpack in rebounding at 8 per game, took 3 charges in the Wolfpack's most recent game, a 56-55 loss to South Aiken, an elite 8 South Carolina state tournament team of a year ago.

Other games of particular interest Friday night:

#9 Laney will try to make tonight the third straight game in which the Wildcats have knocked off a ranked team at home when region rival Butler (#3) visits in a clash of class AA, region 4 teams. Butler will try to bounce back from Tuesday's loss at Josey, while Laney is riding high after a win over #8 Glenn Hills that same night. Laney's region record stands at 2-0, and Butler's is an even 1-1.

Another noteworthy battle will be between the #6 class A private school team, Aquinas, and the visiting Lincoln County Red Devils, which has started its season unranked, but finished last season in the state tournament's elite 8 round.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Augusta University's Double-Header at North Georgia Tips Off Peach Belt Play

Augusta University will open Peach Belt Conference play with a double-header at North Georgia Friday. The women will tip off at 6:00 P.M. and the men are scheduled to begin at 8:00. Watch the action live via North Georgia's YouTube broadcast of both games, which can be found at this link. I also embedded it directly below so you can watch right here at

Watch the Jags women's and men's teams live right here!

Men's and women's teams' paths have mirrored each other's 

Both Jaguar squads have exited the non conference portion of their seasons with a single loss. Both teams suffered their lone setback at the hands of West Georgia. Both responded nicely in their following outings with wins at home over Benedict. And both are led by preseason all conference guards, Keshun Sherrill and Breonna O'Conner.

Sherrill has continued to lead the way

Since the win over Benedict, the men have added another three victories to earn a 7-1 mark entering Friday's game. For the third straight season, preseason first team All Peach Belt Conference pick Keshun Sherrill has led the way. Just as striking as his scoring statistics (24.3 ppg on 50% FG, 48% 3 pt FG, and 92% FT) has been his knack for leading the team when he is most needed.

In a 76-72 win over Wingate, Sherrill scored 13 of his 29 points in the final 6:51 to help Augusta overcome a 7 point second half deficit:

Then in the following game, a 70-59 road win over Bowie State, the 5'9" All American guard scored another 29 points to lead Augusta on a day when no other Jag was able to score more than 7. Just before halftime, "Superman," my nickname for the 50%-40%-90%* shooting wunderkind, was able to get 3 of those points with this full court sprint that took less than 3.9 seconds:

And seemingly to prove his flare for last second threes is no fluke, he followed the Bowie State buzzer beater with another one in the following game, Augusta's most recent win over Vorhees:

A video posted by Augusta University Athletics (@augustajags) on

Williams and Doyle Have Provided Scoring and Rebounding in Key Spots 

Sophomore Deane Williams and junior Kyle Doyle, who is playing in his first season after transferring from Georgia Southern and attending high school locally at Josey, have provided a much needed scoring boost on the frontline. Williams is averaging 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting 58% from the field. And Doyle has made a similar impact off the bench, scoring 10.3 points and grabbing 6 rebounds per contest while making 68% of his shots. Here they are providing a second half spark against Wingate:

*"50-40-90" is a rare feat achieved by basketball players who make over 50% of their field goals, 40% of their threes, and 90% of their free throws.

O'Conner and Outler have led the way for the Lady Jaguars

Senior Breonna O'Conner is leading the team in scoring at just under 17 points per game. She started the season in style with 27 points in 23 minutes in a win over Fort Valley State:

And Cross Creek graduate Ashleigh Outler, who is averaging over 15 points per game, has already won Peach Belt player of the week honors:

The Lady Jags have also gotten a boost from Wright State transfer JJ Williams, who scored 16 points in Augusta's most recent win, a 73-68 decision Sunday over Benedict:

Follow AugBball and don't miss Augusta University's first night of Peach Belt action!