By Doug Gorman
The Clayton State women's basketball team (7-1) knows one thing about this time of year -- they will spend the days leading up to the New Year playing host to the Heritage Bank Holiday Classic.
The annual college basketball showcase became a Southern Crescent tradition nine years ago, and this season it features three-ranked NCAA Division-II squads, including the No. 15-ranked Lakers.
The field also includes No. 21-ranked Lander, No. 23-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne and NAIA foe Brewton-Parker.
Like Clayton State, Lander (7-0) is a member of the Peach Belt Conference. Clayton State, Lander and Lenoir-Rhyne are all expected to challenge for a spot in the NCAA Division II tournament when bids go out in March.
"This is a great field," Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "This tournament is important for region rankings. We, along with Lander and Lenoir-Rhyne, need to play well."
The showcase starts today at 3:30 p.m. when Lander and Lenoir- Rhyne get the event started.
Clayton State then squares off with Brewton Parker at 5:30 p.m.
The two teams used to be rivals back when the Lakers still played in the NAIA.
"I don't know a whole lot about them, but I know they are really athletic," Cox said about first-day opponent Brewton Parker.
Action continues on Wednesday when Lander takes on Brewton Parker at 3:30 p.m., followed by Clayton State playing Lenoir-Rhyne at 5:30 in a battle of two ranked teams.
The Lakers' only loss this year came when they dropped a 65-62 decision to Carson Newman earlier this month.
Right before taking a break for the Christmas holiday, the Lakers beat Tusculum 87-79 in overtime to extend their winning streak.
Clayton State junior guard Teshymia Tillman leads the Peach Belt Conference in scoring and is also 10th in the nation, averaging 20 points per game.
Lander is paced by Shannon McKeever, who is averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Cameron Sealy is tossing in 13 points per game to lead Lenoir-Rhyne.
Clayton State has played well in the Heritage Bank Holiday Classic over the years. The Lakers enter the event with a 14-3 Heritage Bank record.
The Lakers have won their last 10 games at the holiday showcase.
Men's action: The Clayton State men won't be sitting on the sidelines this week.
Head coach Gordon Gibbons' squad headed to Florida on Tuesday where they will play two games as part of the Winter Park Rotary Tangerine Tournament.
Clayton State faces Massachusetts-Lowell today at 3 p.m., followed by a consolation or championship game on Wednesday against either Rollins or Shaw.
The Lakers enter the tournament with a 5-4 record.