Johnson’s 31 sparks Augusta State
George Johnson matched his career high with 31 points, the most ever by an Augusta State player in an NCAA Tournament game, and Franck Ndongo had his second straight double-double of the tournament with 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead the top-seeded Jaguars to a 71-60 victory over fourth-seeded Queens in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament Southeast Regional at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
Augusta State (30-3) rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to equal the school record for wins in a season and advance to the Southeast Regional championship game for the fourth consecutive year. The Jaguars will face seventh-seeded Anderson (20-11), an 82-76 semifinal winner over Montevallo, in the championship game Tuesday at 7 p.m.
However, it was Queens (21-8) that looked ready to run away with the game early on. Ndongo’s layup was Augusta State only basket in the first 11 minutes of the game as Queens raced to a 17-2 lead. Preston Newlin got the Royals going with a three-pointer, Sean Eads capped the run with a trey of his own and Reggie Hopkins led the way with five points.
But the Jaguars responded with 17 unanswered points to grab a 19-17 lead. The turning point came on what was essentially a seven-point possession that pulled Augusta State within one. When Johnson was fouled hard as he made a driving layup, the officials ruled the foul intentional and awarded ASU two free throws and possession of the ball. Johnson hit both free throws after the foul, then swished a three-pointer to cap the seven-point swing and make the score 17-16. Johnson followed with another three-pointer to give the Jaguars their first lead, 19-17 with 5:01 left in the first half.
Johnson carried Augusta State in the first half, scoring 19 of the Jaguars’ 28 points. Augusta State shot just 35.7 percent (10-28) from the field in the first half, but still took a 28-26 lead to halftime as Queens made just 37 percent of its shots (10-27).
Johnson continued to hit big shots in the second half, including a trio of crucial three-pointers. The senior from Arlington, Va., brought the partisan crowd of 1,733 to its feet with a trey that put the Jaguars up 48-42 with 9:34 to play. After Queens closed the gap to 48-46, Johnson beat the shot clock with a three-pointer to stretch the lead back to five. He drained another three less than a minute later to give the Jaguars their biggest lead to that point, 54-46.
Augusta State opened its first double-digit lead when Ndongo made a nice reverse layup while being fouled with 2:43 remaining. Ndongo hit the free throw to complete the eoint play and stretch the lead to 63-53.
The Jaguars struggled from the free throw line, shooting 59.4 percent (19-32), but converted seven of nine down the stretch to seal the win. Johnson’s two free throws with 1:04 left capped his career-high night and extended Augusta State’s home winning streak to 48 straight games, the fourth-longest active streak in the nation.
Daniel Bailey led Queens with 16 points and Brent Evans pulled down nine rebounds. Hopkins added 15 points and six rebounds but made just three of 14 shots from the field.