By Doug Gorman
The Clayton State Lakers simply ran out of time.
Trailing by as many as 19 points with a little more than six minutes to go in the game, the Lakers' comeback effort fell just short.
It translated into a 76-70 loss to North Georgia in a key Peach Belt Conference game Wednesday in Morrow.
"We are going to play well in the conference tournament because I think we are playing well right now," said Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons. "I thought tonight was disappointing, but I don't think it is characteristic of this team."
With the loss, Clayton State fell to 12-12 overall and below .500 at 8-9 in the Peach Belt Conference. North Georgia, which also beat the Lakers at its place earlier this year, improved its record to 16-9 overall and 11-7 in league action.
The Saints converted on eight 3-point shots, including one from Jakirra Millsap as the buzzer sounded to end the first half to put them up 35-32 after the first 20 minutes.
North Georgia never trailed again.
The Saints went on a 21-6 run in the first six minutes of the second half. Back-to-back 3-point shots by Anthony Rowe helped pace the Saints second-half scoring spurt, and it appeared for a time North Georgia was going to blow the Lakers' out of the gym.
Rowe's second trey of the second half gave the Saints a 56-38 lead.
Clayton State only shot 39.1 percent from the field and placed on only two players in double figures as B.J. Fields poured in 15 points and Ricky Garrett added 14.
North Georgia spread the scoring wealth throughout the game with Andre Morgan leading all scorers with 21 points.
Rowe added 15 and Xavier Trice scored 14. Teammate Nick Pope finished with 14.
Clayton State whittled away at the North Georgia lead late in the game as Garrett tried to take the game over in the final two minutes.
His two free throws cut the lead to 68-63 and his old-fashioned three-point play cut the gap to 71-66.
It was as close as Clayton State got to pulling off the comeback.
Clayton State took control of the game early in the first half as senior Michael Sloan, the school's all-time 3-point shooter, drilled a trey with a little more than six minutes left to go up 20-13.
It was the Lakers' biggest lead of the night as the Saints put together their first comeback to cut the score to 20-19 on a 6-0 run.
In a game that saw eight-lead changes, North Georgia went up 27-26 on Rowe's three-point play.
Field's 3-point shot with 1:53 left gave the Lakers their last lead of the first half at 29-27.
Will Lewis also answered with a late 3-pointer after the Saints went up 32-29 to tie the game at 32, before North Georgia went into the lockerroom at the half with a 35-32 lead on its buzzer beater by Millsap.