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Clayton State, KSU to battle for No. 1 spot in Peach Belt

From staff reports

The Clayton College & State University men's and women's basketball teams are headed down the stretch of their Peach Belt Conference seasons, and for the first time in Clayton State's eight years of competing in the league, both teams in the same year have their eyes on a conference crown.

The Clayton State men are currently in a tie for first place in the Peach Belt Conference with metro-Atlanta rival Kennesaw State University, while the women's squad is in second place in the league, one game behind Columbus State University.

Both the men's and women's squads have six Peach Belt games remaining and will return to action on Wednesday, traveling to face rival Kennesaw State in 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. contests. Both games will be at Spec Landrum Center on the Kennesaw campus.

For the Clayton State men, the matchup will not only be for metro-Atlanta bragging rights, but it will also be for first place in the PBC as both clubs will enter the contest with 8-2 records. Clayton State is 15-9 overall on the season and coming off a win over 8th-ranked the University of South Carolina Upstate on Saturday, the first time in school history the Lakers have defeated a top-10 team. Kennesaw State, ranked 12th in the last national poll, enters the contest with an 18-3 record and is coming off a 64-55 win over the University of South Carolina Aiken on Monday.

Both Clayton State and Kennesaw State are riding five-game winning streaks, the longest current streaks in the Peach Belt. The Lakers have been led by senior forward Craig Butts, who was named Peach Belt Player of the Week on Monday, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds in the last three games. He had back-to-back career highs of 26 points against Upstate and Columbus State.

Butts currently leads the Lakers in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. He averages17 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Craig ranks second in the PBC in rebounding, fourth in scoring and third in field goal percentage.

Senior Rey Luque, averaging 16 points per game, fifth best in the conference, leads Kennesaw State. He poured in a career high 28 points Saturday in a win over Lander.

The Clayton State men's team is currently playing its best basketball of the season, winning 12 of its last 14 games, while KSU, the defending national champion, has the best overall record in the Peach Belt.

Kennesaw State leads in the all-time series 17-9 and defeated Clayton State in last year's Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals, an epic defensive battle 43-39.

On the women's side, Clayton State is in position to challenge for the Peach Belt title for the first time in school history and is enjoying its best season under the direction of first-year coach Dennis Cox.

Cox's impact has been an immediate one, and under his leadership, the Lakers are 15-6 on the season and 7-3 in the league.

The team's overall mark is tied for the best in the league with Columbus State, while the Cougars lead the conference with an 8-2 record in the PBC.

Clayton State is coming off an 83-57 win over USC Upstate on Saturday behind 19 points from junior Jasmine Patterson. Kennesaw State is coming off an 85-74 win over PBC North Division leader USC Aiken on Saturday. The Owls will enter the game with a 12-9 overall record and a 4-6 record in the PBC.

The Lakers have had a balanced attack this season with four players averaging in double digits. Senior Jamika Hindsman leads the way at 14 points per game and seven rebounds per contest. She also leads the team in steals and assists.

Junior Jasmine Patterson and Shelcey Harp average 11 points per contest, followed by senior April Taylor at 10 points per game.

For Kennesaw, junior Shavonder Clarke leads the team, averaging 18 points per game, second best in the Peach Belt.

Clarke was named PBC Player of the Week after scoring 26 points and 27 points in back-to-back games against Armstrong Atlantic State University and the University of North Carolina Pembroke. She also ranks second in the PBC in scoring and fifth in rebounding.

Kennesaw State leads in the all-time series 20-2 and defeated Clayton State 84-74 in Kennesaw.