By Anthony Rhoads
The Clayton State Lady Lakers gave it their best shot Wednesday night against the North Florida, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, but they fell short 65-55 in their Peach Belt Conference opener.
"We didn't execute our offense as well as we like," Clayton State head coach A.C. McCullers said. "They were strong physically inside and we never got into our game and into our rhythm. I thought we played extremely hard but not smart all night long. I though we played two tentative inside."
Neither team shot the ball well; North Florida (12-0, 1-0) shot just 28.8 percent (19 of 66) while Clayton State (8-4, 0-1) shot 27 percent (13 of 48). Another key in the contest was turnovers; Clayton State coughed up the ball over 24 times.
"You can't make those kinds of mistakes and expect to beat a team like North Florida," McCullers said.
Clayton State more than held its own early in the game and built an eight-point lead with about seven minutes remaining when Myeshia Choice scored to give the Lady Lakers a 19-11 advantage. North Florida chipped away at the lead and by halftime, the Lady Ospreys led 24-23.
Clayton State's Apryl Brown scored a pair of free throws early in the second half to give her team a 25-24 lead and that would be the Lady Lakers' final lead of the contest. Brown wound up scoring 13 points, including going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second half.
"That was one bright spot for us tonight," McCullers said.
Clayton State managed to keep things fairly close throughout the second half. With 1:47 remaining, Brown made a pair of free throws to cut North Florida's lead to 51-45 but the Lady Ospreys were able to pull away at the end.
"They never give up; they're always going to play hard," McCullers said.
McCullers said a key to playing well against top teams like North Florida is consistency.
"You have to play consistently and come to play day by day," he said. "In our league, there's no letdown this year. It's the best Division II basketball in the country. You have to be mentally tough; it's so physically and mentally demanding."
Clayton State's Jamika Hindsman led all scorers with 15 points.
Skye Barber had a double-double for the Lady Ospreys as she scored 10 points and had 15 rebounds. Latisha Perry led North Florida with 13 and Natalie Hicks scored 10. Clayton State's Brandi Catia pulled down 10 rebounds.
Up next: Clayton State plays a three-game road stretch at Francis Marion on Jan. 10, Armstrong Atlantic on Jan. 14 and Lander on Jan. 17.