By Doug Gorman
For the Clayton College and State University men's basketball team, things can best be described as a tale of two seasons.
Before Christmas, Clayton State struggled to a 3-7 record , including a four-game losing. Now, they are in contention for a Peach Belt Conference title.
All four of those early losses were two nationally ranked teams, and three of the games were lost by three points or less.
Clayton State definetly wasn't living up to its preseason hype, which had the Lakers ranked in several preseason polls.
"I think a lot of our publicity was based on potential," said Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons. "But we played an exrtremly tough schedule to open the season, those team that beat us are still nationally ranked."
Clayton State was also trying to blend several new comers into the lineup with three starters from last year's team.
"Everybody had to find their roles and gel," said Gibbons.
Now, Clayton State is living up to its preseason hype.
Heading into its next two games, including this weekend's contest at USC-Upstate, and then against defending Division II national champions Kennesaw State, the Lakers are on a roll.
The squad has won 12 of 14 games and is 7-2 in the Peach Belt Conference South Division standings.
The turn around came during a nine-day break from basketball as the Lakers studied and took their final examines in December.
During that period, the basketball team held only brief practices.
It also gave Gibbons a chance to challenge his teamto step up their play, especially on defense.
"We sort of went back to basics," he said. "We have always prided ourselves on the way we play defense. During those early games, we weren't doing a very good job or guarding teams."
Gibbons that he didn't do a lot of screaming, but he did call on his seniors to step up and take charge.
They answered their coach's request.
During the last 14-games, Clayton State's defense has helped turn the Lakers' back into a winning basketball team.
Eight teams have shot less than 40 percent from the floor, and Lakers rank second in points allowed in the conference.
Heading into today's game against USC-Upstate, the Lakers have shown posted a 14-9 overall record and a 7-2 mark in league action.
Seniors Craig Butts comes into the contest averaging 16.7 points per game. B.J. Puckett is averaging 12.9. Darrien Chavis is averaging 8.3 points per contest.
A one-time walk on, Justin Levy is leading the team in 3-point shots after hitting 21 of 40.
Butts is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game.
Former Lovejoy standout Michael Sloan is adjusting to the college game. He has started six of the nine conference games, and is averaging nearly six points per game.