By Jeffery Armstrong
The Clayton State University basketball players said they were happy to play someone besides each other in practice.
Monday night, the Lakers were able to push and shove the Baseline USA All-Star team and they came away victorious, defeating the veteran squad 97-84 in the Lakers' first exhibition game of the season.
"We were glad to get a game going, especially in front of our fans," said senior Lamar Rodgers, formerly of Mt. Zion High. "We played well. I didn't shoot the ball like I wanted, so I'll be back in the gym tomorrow."
Lakers head coach Gordon Gibbons said they have added scoring and speed to their squad this season. Speed was evident in the first half as newcomer Darien Chavis, a junior point guard who transferred from Colorado State, pushed the ball up quickly and got his team involved right away. Clayton State led 25-16 early, forcing Baseline to switch to a 2-3 zone.
The zone bothered the Lakers a bit, but a three-pointer from Kevin Young put them up 44-36 with 4:39 left in the half. Baseline went on a 14-7 run, however, to trail only 51-50 at the half.
Clayton State showed its scoring prowess in the second half, as big men B.J. Puckett, Craig Butts and reserve guard/forward Carlton Holmes lit up the scoreboard for the Lakers.
Holmes ignited the Lakers, hitting two treys to get a run started. Soon, Clayton State led 77-69 and was in control until the team missed shots and Baseline made a run.
Former Laker Kareen Harris led the Baseline run with two treys of his own and the veterans trailed Clayton State by three, 82-79, with 3:15 left in the game.
Puckett, who led the balanced Laker attack with 16 points, then sank a baseline hook and Young hit two free throws to give the Lakers an 86-80 lead at the 2:27 mark.
Young also finished with 16 points and six assists, including 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Harris then helped his former team by making a bad pass under pressure on Baseline's next possession, which was stolen by Jason Byrd.
Harris fouled him and Byrd made one free throw. Chavis, who missed some free throws earlier, connected on a jumper for an 89-80 lead and the Lakers cruised to the victory.
"Coach Gibbons brought me in to score and after sitting with fouls in the first half, I did what I do best in the second half," said Holmes, who finished with 12 points.
Butts scored 14 points and Chavis added 13 for Clayton State.
Demario Jones of Baseline led all scorers with 21 points, Harris had 12, Adrian Jones had 11 and James Hodges chipped in 10 for the all-star squad.
"Coach Gibbons lets us play loose and we play hard on defense," said Chavis. "If we work hard and stay together, I believe we can go real far this year."
"What I like about this team is that we can score, especially off of the bench," said Gibbons. "We can score in the paint and now we have speed which helps our press. I think that's an element we lacked last year."