By Brian Paglia
One night before, Clayton State had slogged through a poor 40 minutes of shooting, persevering with enough guile and defense to overcome its frustrations with the rim.
On Tuesday, the Lady Lakers' defense again proved a proper antidote to some early shooting woes. Clayton State overcame a troubling first half to rout Talladega 89-64 in the Heritage Bank Holiday Classic at the Athletics and Fitness Center, extending its winning streak to seven games.
As its early shots missed, Clayton State (7-1) again seemed destined to stumble through poor shooting against an outmatched opponent. The Lady Lakers beat Stillman 61-45 on Monday despite shooting just 32.9 percent for the game.
And if there has been one glaring blemish for Clayton State in this first stretch of the season, it has been the team's shooting percentage (37 percent). Tuesday night marked just the second time this season the Lady Lakers shot better than 40 percent for an entire game.
"We've been flat ever since we came back (from holiday break)," Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. "I thought we were flat the whole game (Monday) night... It's always tough after a long layoff. We kind of have to muscle through it, though."
But while they search for their shooting touch, the Lady Lakers continued their dominating defense. They had 16 steals and forced 35 turnovers, which helped freshman Brittany Hall (23 points) and Tanisha Woodard (18 points) have career nights. Lasheria Stevens finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Nikkisha Pritchett added her customary 11 points off the bench.
Clayton State led by eight at halftime despite its poor outside shooting. The Lady Lakers played their finest when their guards' full-court pressure defense forced turnovers that led to easy fastbreak points.
That's how Clayton State managed to dig itself out of one morbid stretch in the first half, a Talladega 10-2 run that gave the Lady Tornad
erupted on a 13-3 run to close the half. And suddenly, Clayton State scored the first 15 points of the second half, overwhelming Talladega with swarming pressure from its guards.
"We were pretty active in the press tonight, and they didn't handle it well," Cox said. "Thank goodness that we have that. If we had to rely on outside shots, than I don't know if we would've won."
That second-half run perfectly encapsulated just how crushing Clayton State's defense can be. Barely two minutes had passed before the Lady Lakers stretched their lead toward 20 at 54-35. Often those points came on fast-break opportunities led by Woodard, Hall and Stevens.
Woodard's recent emergence has helped ease some of Clayton State's shooting struggles. Tuesday marked the first time she scored in double-figures in consecutive games. She dazzled at times with her athleticism and playmaking ability in transition.
"Such a great athlete," Cox said. "Long, athletic, what we really like for our system, because we're sitting down in passing lanes and getting our hands on a lot of balls. She's just got real quick hands and long arms. Can really penetrate to the rim. We've got to develop her outside shot a little bit, but she's going to be a nice player for us."
Note: Clayton State has won 10 straight games in the Heritage Bank Holiday Classic. The Lady Lakers are 14-3 overall in the event's eight years. os a 32-30 lead. Suddenly, the Lady Lakers