From Staff Reports
HICKORY, N.C.- It's on the "Sweet 16" again for the Clayton State Laker women's basketball team.
Behind 19 points from senior guard Marie St. Fort, Clayton State advanced to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional championship on Saturday with a 79-68 victory over Tusculum at Lenoir-Rhyne's Shuford Gymnasium. This marks the third straight season that Clayton State (25-6) has advanced to the regional title game, or Division II "Sweet 16."
The Lakers will now await the winner of the other Southeast Regional semifinal match-up between host Lenoir-Rhyne and Peach Belt Conference rival Francis Marion. The Southeast Regional Championship game is set for Monday night at 7 p.m. at Shuford Gymnasium.
"This team has been Jekyl and Hyde for parts of the season," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "But we played together tonight, we stayed focused and we beat a very good team tonight in Tusculum."
Clayton State hit its first three 3-point attempts to lead 11-4, and the Lakers would never trail in the contest. A fourth 3-pointer, this one by Dominique Jennings, put Clayton State up 20-12 with 11:32 left in the half.
Tusculum (26-6) rallied to tie the game at 27-27 on a three-point play by Kat Spears with 5:46 remaining. However, the Clayton State defense then came up with four steals resulting in an 8-2 run that produced a 35-29 lead. A 15-foot jumper by Lesheria Stevens just before the buzzer gave Clayton State a 39-34 advantage at halftime.
The two teams traded baskets to open the second half, and following a stick-back by 6-foot-8 center Catherine Hintz, the Pioneers still trailed by five at 52-47 with 13:36 left. But 3-point baskets by Jennings and St. Fort sparked a 16-5 Clayton State run that put the Lakers ahead 68-52 at the 6:57 mark. St. Fort had eight total points in the spurt
Tusculum would get no closer than 14 points until the final 65 seconds when the contest was already decided
In addition to St. Fort, Stevens scored 14 points, while forward Shanrika Hardeman recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Clayton State. Brittany Hall tallied 12 points, and Jennings added 10 points.
For the game, the Lakers shot 50 percent (8-for-16) from 3-point range, and committed only 12 turnovers.
For Tusculum, Jasmine Gunn scored 18 points, followed by Spears with 13 points and Stephany Neptune scored 12 points.