By Brian Paglia
Clayton State players huddled in the middle of the Athletics and Fitness Center as they had for each of their previous nine victories. In flew Freddie Williams, leaping on top of his teammates wearing a Clayton State sweatshirt and jeans.
Williams had done much of the work to help the Lakers snap a five-game losing streak full of losses both stunning and close, but he was forced to let his teammates complete the rest without him. Referees said they saw Williams throw a punch in the midst of a chaotic scuffle under the basket, though it appeared he was merely separating opposing players.
But the rest of the Lakers completed the work, enduring a battle with North Georgia Wednesday night to get a refreshing 81-62 victory after hitting their lowest point this season.
"It feels good," Lakers guard Bernard Fields said. "We still got a lot of work to do, but I'm just happy we could get this win."
Clayton State (10-5, 3-5 in Peach Belt) found its conference schedule a more daunting task then it perhaps anticipated while opening the season 9-0. During its losing streak, the Lakers' worse loss was by nine to Georgia College. Its other four losses were by a combined eight points, including an overtime loss at home to Georgia Southwestern.
"Our league is so tough that every game is going to be an absolute war," Gordon said, "and we are going to have to out-play the other team.
Now that sounds trite, but in a league like this there's no margin for error. If you don't play extremely well, home or on the road, it's going to be extremely hard to win."
Wednesday it had the task of confronting a Saints team (8-7, 2-7) that had just pushed second-place Augusta State to the brink. Forward Anthony Rowe had career highs of 30 points and 13 rebounds, posing a formidable challenge for Clayton State's frontcourt.
Rowe did not match that output on this night, though he finished with a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds), including six offensive rebounds. Michael Moynihan, the grandson of college basketball coaching legend Lefty Driesell, had 15, and Brody Langston scored 11.
But Clayton State's defense held North Georgia to 28 percent shooting.
The Saints' leading scorer coming into the game, LaBrian Lyons (16.1 points a game), missed all of his six shots, finished with just four points and fouled out of the game.
"I just thought our defense tonight was tremendous," Gordon said. "You hold a team to 20 percent shooting in the second half, and prepare as well as our guys prepared with one day, that's a big win for our team and one we really needed."
Before his ejection with 5:25 left in the game, Williams had scored 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting. A minute earlier, he soared above the rim on a missed shot for a momentum-shifting putback, giving Clayton State (10-5, 3-5 in Peach Belt) a 63-51 lead in the process.
Fields led the Lakers with 19 points and six rebounds on 6 of 14 shooting. Clayton State got 30 points from its bench and committed only eight turnovers.