Championship bound! Clayton State women hold off determined Lander 71-63 in PBC semifinals
COLUMBUS, Ga. – March 3, 2012 – After a near-flawless first half, the Clayton State Laker women's basketball team needed every ounce of energy in the second half against rival Lander on Saturday. But the Lakers found the needed resiliency to pull off a 71-63 victory in the semifinals of the 2012 Peach Belt Conference Tournament at the Lumpkin Center.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation in Division II, Clayton State has now won 10 straight to improve to 28-2 overall. The Lakers advance to tomorrow's Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship game at 2 p.m., in which they will face either UNC Pembroke or No. 9 USC Aiken. Clayton State will be aiming for its fourth PBC Tournament championship under head coach Dennis Cox.
"We are very familiar with Lander and our games are always fun," said Cox. "No game is ever over, and it was stressful for a while. I was very proud of our kids for hanging in there and finishing down the stretch."
The Lakers could not have played a better first half than on Saturday. Clayton State shot nearly 50 percent from the field and built a 21-point halftime lead.
Keona Dixon drained a 3-point basket at the 8:51 and a driving lay-up by Tanisha Woodard gave the Lakers a 26-14 lead with 7:51 remaining. Shannon Smith then scored on a lay-up in transition, increasing the Clayton State lead to 30-17 at the 6:19 mark.
The Lakers finished the first half on a 13-2 run as forward Kayla Mobley scored seven points down the stretch. Her lay-up with four seconds remaining gave Clayton State what appeared to be a commanding 43-22 lead at halftime.
"We played one of our best halves of basketball in the first half," Cox said. "Our kids really bought into the game plan and were ready to play. I thought we were very focused. But the other team – especially one like Lander – will not lay down for you."
The No. 23-ranked Lady Bearcats (21-7) didn't lie down. Instead, Lander opened the second half on a 13-2 run to trim the Laker lead to 10 points. Jasmine Judge and Mukia Myrick each sank 3-point baskets for the Lady Bearcats, and a 3-point play by center Kayla Small cut the Clayton State lead to 45-35 with 16:03 remaining.
Clayton State managed to push its lead back to 16 points. Dixon scored twice inside, and a 3-point basket by Shacamra Jackson increased the Laker lead to 61-45 at the 10:34 mark. But then Clayton State went almost six minutes without scoring.
Lander, meanwhile answered with a 13-0 run. Ciara Lyons scored twice inside, and a 3-point basket by Brittni Johnson cut the Laker lead to 61-56 with 7:02 remaining. The Lady Bearcats then cut the lead to three points on a free throw by Precious Elkins.
But that was as close as Lander would get. Woodard made perhaps the biggest shot of the game with a running jumper in the lane with 1:53 remaining, and the Lakers made four key free throws in the final minute to seal it.
Woodard recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, along with six assists for Clayton State, while Dixon paced the Lakers with 18 points. Mobley scored 13 points, and Smith added 10 points off the bench.
For Lander, Lyons scored 15 points, followed by Myrick with 14 points and Johnson scored 12 points.