From Staff Reports
According to Clayton State women's head basketball coach Dennis Cox, winning the Peach Belt Conference means winning at home and stealing a couple of games on the road.
The Lakers got that road steal on Wednesday.
Spearheaded by strong play off the bench and a never-ending determination, Clayton State made it 10 straight victories with a thrilling 71-68 victory at big Peach Belt Conference rival Columbus State at the Lumpkin Center. The Lakers are now 10-1 overall and remain on top in the Peach Belt at 4-0.
"This team has shown it wants to win," said Cox. "Honestly, I thought Columbus State was the better team tonight, and it went right down the wire. We were real fortunate and we'll take it."
It wasn't the Lakers' best game by any stretch. Clayton State shot only 21 percent (6-for-29) from 3-point range and 38 percent from the field. In addition, the Lakers had only seven free throw attempts to 25 for Columbus State.
However, it was the Clayton State bench that kept the Lakers in the game, especially in the first half. With Columbus State controlling the boards behind center Phoebe Smith, the Lady Cougars five times built a seven-point lead. However, Tanisha Woodard and Nikkisha Pritchett kept Clayton State within striking distance with their strong play off the bench.
Pritchett scored nine points in the opening half, while Woodard scored six to go with six steals.
The Lakers made their move in the second half. Trailing 37-31, Clayton State took its first lead of the game 44-43 on a running jump shot in the lane by Woodard at the 14:52 mark. A big 3-point basket by Brittany Hall extended the lead to 51-47 with 11:51 mark.
The lead changed hands four times before the Lakers took the lead for good on a baseline jumper by Hall at the 2:09 mark. A jump shot by Lesheria Stevens extended the Clayton State lead to five points, but the Lady Cougars cut the lead to one point, 69-68 on a lay-up by Monique Jefferson with 58 seconds remaining.
However, Stevens sank two free throws with 41 seconds remaining, and Columbus State committed a turnover and missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
"We were disappointed with the energy level in the first half, especially on the defensive end and on the boards," Cox said. "In the second half, the energy level picked up."
Pritchett paced Clayton State with 13 points off the bench, followed by Hall and Stevens each with 12 points. Stevens, in fact, recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds, Clayton State's bench was pivotal with 36 points to only 11 for Columbus State.
For Columbus State (9-4, 2-1 PBC), Smith had a double-double with 19 points and 17 rebounds, followed by 17 points by Rosetta Hollis and 11 points from Chauntel Ferdinand.
Clayton State is off this weekend. The Lakers return to action next Wednesday (Jan. 14) at home against Georgia Southwestern.