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Lady Lakers take step closer to NCAA Division II Elite 8

From staff reports

The Clayton College & State University women's basketball team took a step closer down the road to the NCAA Division II Elite Saturday, winning its first round game Saturday in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional.

A 28-7 run in just over a 10-minute stretch in the second half was the difference, as the Lakers turned a close contest into a whopping victory, defeating Newberry College 79-54 at the regional hosted by Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.

"We got off to a good start, and I was happy about that," said head coach Dennis Cox. "You're always worried about getting off to a slow start in a game of this magnitude. For whatever reason, we went a little stale in the second half, and they cut the deficit to six points. We brought some players off the bench at that time, and they responded to push our lead back to double-digits. I thought that was the key to the game."

With the win, the Lakers, the No. 2 seed in the South Atlantic Region, improve to a school best 25-6 on the season and extend their school record-winning streak to 11 games. Clayton State's last loss came at the hands of Columbus State University over a month ago. The loss ends Newberry's season at 18-12 on the year.

The Lakers will try to keep their winning streak alive on Saturday, facing the No. 3 seed in the region, Carson-Newman College. The Eagles defeated Fayetteville State University, the six seed in the first round, 79-67, to advance to the 8 p.m. semifinal game on Saturday. Clayton State defeated Carson-Newman, the top team out of the South Atlantic Conference, earlier this season 76-54 in the finals of the Heritage Bank Tip-Off Classic.

Leading by only six points, 47-41, with 14:20 remaining, Clayton State took control of Saturday's contest with its 21-point second half run. Junior Carlie Anderson ignited the run, draining a three-pointer at the 13:57 mark, giving the squad a 50-41 advantage.

After both teams swapped baskets for the next four minutes, a layup by senior Jamika Hindsman, followed by an inside move from senior Brandi Catia gave the Lakers a 14-point advantage, 60-46.

With the score 62-48, Clayton State pushed its lead to 21 points with seven unanswered points that were aided a two Newberry technical fouls. Junior Shelcey Harp drained all four free throws from the technical fouls, followed by Hindsman converting a three-point play on the Lakers ensuing possession. The Lakers led 69-48 with 7:14 remaining.

Clayton State's Cynthia Conseil capped the 28-7 run at the 3:13 mark, giving the Lakers a 27-point advantage, 75-48.

"We never thought it would be easy," said Hindsman. "When you get this far, all the teams are good. They are good. We just had a nice run there in the second half."

The Lakers led from the opening tip and pushed their lead to 11 points, 14-3, early with a basket by Catia at the 16:30 mark. Clayton State took its quick lead thanks to a trio of three-pointers by sophomore Basia Bukowska in the first five minutes of the contest.

Newberry answered at the 10:42 and a basket by leading scorer Carnicha Bellinger cut the Laker lead to four points, 20-16. Clayton State responded over the final minutes of the half and pushed its lead to 13 points, 42-29, at intermission on a basket by senior April Taylor.

For Clayton State, Harp finished with a game high 19 points, hitting 6-of-11 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Hindsman added 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds, three assists and five steals. Catia sparked the Lakers off the bench with 11 points and five boards.

Bellinger and Ashlee Wright led Newberry with 10 points apiece.

Clayton State shot 46 percent (29-of-63) from the floor, while Newberry hit 39 percent (19-of-49). Clayton State outrebounded the Indians 39-31 and won the battle on the offensive boards 14-9. The Lakers also forced 21 turnovers compared to committing only 16.

UPCOMING GAME IN THE SEMIFINALS: Clayton State's opponent in the semifinals, Carson-Newman held off an upset-minded Fayetteville State team to win by 12 points, 79-67. Fayetteville State trailed by only one points with 3:46 remaining but was outscored 12-1 over the final 3:46 of the game.

The Eagles were led by Brooke Johnson with 22 points and eight rebounds, followed by Giovanni Booker with 18 points and Tiffany Parker with 14 points and 10 boards.

In the earlier meeting between the two teams, Clayton broke open a close game with a 22-2 run over a five-minute stretch late in the game. The run started with the Lakers leading only 52-48 with 9:02 remaining and was capped by layup by Taylor, giving the squad a 74-50 advantage with 4:02 to play.

Hinsman led the Lakers with 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the win, followed by Catia with 11 points and 10 boards. Junior Jasmine Patterson also chipped in 11 points.

For Carson-Newman, Johnson finished with 14 points, while Parker had a game-high 12 boards.

The all-time series between the two schools is even at 1-1.