Eleven games of near perfect basketball can make two disappointing losses send a coach looking for remedies quick. Clayton State coach Dennis Cox looked first to his bench Wednesday night.
There he found Nikki Pritchett, who has established herself as Clayton State's most prolific threat off the bench. She came in averaging a team-best 10.9 points, but only started five games.
Wednesday she replaced the struggling Lesheria Stevens in the starting lineup and contributed from the start of No. 24 Clayton State's 75-62 victory over North Georgia at the Athletics and Fitness Center.
Pritchett scored seven straight points - a short jumper, a transition layup and a corner 3 - during the Lady Lakers' 17-0 run early in the first half. By halftime she exceeded her season average with 12 points.
By the second half she was indispensible. Clayton State coach Dennis Cox gave her no breaks, keeping her in for 32 minutes of work. When she was done, Pritchett had a career-high 22 points on 8 of 16 shooting.
"I like Nikki off the bench because she brings firepower," Cox said, "and I like to have that from off the bench. But Stevens has really struggled the last couple of games. And we lost two games....Sometimes it's good for (Stevens), too, to step back and regroup herself. I don't know if we'll keep it that way or not, but Nikki sure responded well."
Marie St. Fort showed signs of rebounding from her shooting struggles, finishing with 19 points for the Lady Lakers (12-3, 6-2 in Peach Belt). Tanisha Woodard chipped in 10 off the bench.
Clayton State again put forth a dominating defensive effort. They forced 32 turnovers by North Georgia (5-11, 2-7) thanks to a hounding full court press that led to many of the Lady Lakers' 18 steals.
Though the Lady Saints' Whitney Randolph finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, she also had 12 turnovers. Syretha Marble, one of the conference's best scorers, scored 19 points. But Clayton State held North Georgia without a three-point shot (0 for 13) while finding its own rhythm from behind the arc early on. The Lady Lakers finished 7 of 17 on three-pointers.
"I didn't think we played particularly well," Cox said, "but we were very, very fortunate that they were cold shooting from three-point range. I thought that was the difference in the game."
Pritchett's last 3 seemingly signalled the end of North Georgia's chances. Dribbling at the top of the key in the second half, Pritchett looked left and right hoping to swing the ball. But good defense by North Georgia gave Pritchett no options.
Thus she stepped into a shot from well beyond the arc, and it fell through the net. Clayton State had a 58-47 lead and led by more than 10 the rest of the game.
For one evening, the Lady Lakers returned to its early-season form and got a win that helps two painful losses seem like ages ago.
"It just feels good to win again," Cox said.