Two years ago, the Jaguars were close to arriving at Lincoln Memorial in Tennessee when the postseason was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they had to turn around and come home.
As the team prepared for Tuesday’s Elite Eight matchup against Chico State at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, Metress reflected on the year it’s been, the shot that got them there and what lies ahead.
“Last Tuesday was an electric atmosphere. I’ve been coaching here for 18 years and we’ve never had a game that came down to a game-winning 3-pointer,” Metress said of Miguel Arnold’s game-winner. “The fact that was for the regional championship, it was an unbelievable atmosphere and I’m happy for our players to experience a win like this at home.”
Tuesday’s games, which will be broadcast on the NCAA website, are:
- Game 1: No. 4 Bentley vs. No. 5 Northwest Missouri State, 1 p.m.
- Game 2: No. 1 Nova Southeastern vs. No. 8 Black Hills State, 3:30 p.m.
- Game 3: No. 2. Indiana (PA) vs. No. 7 Hillsdale, 7 p.m.
- Game 4: No. 3 Augusta vs. No. 6 Chico State, 9:30 p.m.
The winners of Game 1 and 2 will face each other in one semifinal while Game 3 and 4 winners will meet each other on March 24. The national championship game will be played March 26.
The No. 3 Jaguars enter their quarterfinals matchup against the sixth-seed Wildcats on a 17-game winning streak that dates back to Jan. 22. They shot 56% from the field against Belmont Abbey, 46% against UNC Pembroke and 51% against Queens. Metress has told his team that this late in the season, if you don’t play well, you go home.
“Queens played well and they still went home, it just happened that we got the ball last,” said Metress, who noted the Jaguars are 14-2 in the regional tournament at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
AU will be playing in its fourth Elite Eight overall and its first since the 2009-10 season. Metress said this year’s format is a little different, with days off in between the quarterfinals and semifinals. He said one thing he learned years ago was the level of competition is equal to, if not a little better, than those in their conference. But ultimately, getting a chance to play for national championship is exciting.
“He’s been phenomenal. He’s carried us basketball-wise. He carried leadership-wise,” Metress said. “He’s been really good defensively. I’m glad he got most valuable player in the region tournament because he’s definitely the most valuable player.”
Several players have two or three years of playing experience, and at the last practice, some of them went online to find a Chico State game to prepare themselves physically and mentally for what they’re about to encounter.
Tyree Myers, a senior guard, will also be a key player on the court because “everyone listens to him,” according to Metress.
“And he listens to everybody because sometimes guys don’t listen to each other. I’ve never had a situation where Tyree questioned anything, and when he says something to a teammate, they listen and he also listens to them, and that’s a good characteristic to have when you know you’re clearly leading the team.”
Before every season starts, Metress has the team over to his house to help build chemistry. He said then that he liked this group of players and their talent. He didn’t know how they would develop throughout the season and they all knew there would be bumps in the road. Ultimately, they all want to win.
“Some of our guys experienced winning their first year. It’s nice to have returning players because Troy Cracknell and Miguel sat out last year. They were there when people were beating us,” Metress said. “We had some fans this season that were asking, ‘Is that going to be payback?’ Yes, it’s payback for them. They’ve been enjoying this group and I’m just glad we get a chance to play in Elite Eight with this group.”
There will be an Elite Eight watch party at the Dr. Roscoe Williams Ballroom in the Jaguar Student Activities Center with ice cream provided by Bruster’s. Students, don’t forget to bring your student ID.