By Derrick Mahone
The final tune-up for Clayton State will likely serve as a learning experience the Lakers would like to quickly forget as they prepare to open the season in three days.
Playing against a more experience and talented team, Clayton State was humbled 109-92 by Baseline USA Wednesday at the Athletics and Fitness Center. The Baseline team, which was composed of former college players, including five players that played Div. I basketball.
"This by far was the best Baseline team we had ever played," said Lakers coach Gordon Gibbons, whose team had won five of the previous seven meetings between the teams. "This team had good caliber players with depth. We let them dictate the game. This will be good for us. There will be no finger pointing on the team. We just have to go to work the next couple days."
Clayton State, which won its other exhibition contest 125-59 against Martinique Golden Star, opens the regular season Sunday at home against Edward Waters. The Lakers will play 14 of their first 18 games at home, including the first five. Edward Waters is an NAIA team that will come to town having already played nine games.
Despite Wednesday's loss, Gibbons said the Lakers have a lot of positives to look at. Clayton State enters the season having been picked to finish second in the 13-team Peach Belt Conference.
"We have basically a new team, and this was our first test against some high level players," Gibbons said. "After our first exhibition game, we thought we were ready to take on the world. We got it handed to us. We have to tweak some things and get back at it."
Baseline, which spends most of its time touring overseas, was led by former Clayton State player Michael Sloan, who finished with 22 points. Former Wake Forest guard Tony Rutland had 19 points and Shannon Chambers had 18. Baseline controlled the game from the tip as it jumped to a 12-point lead on the strength of four 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the game.
The Lakers cut into the lead to tie the game at 27-27 with 8:49 remaining in the first half on a 3-pointer from Robert Murry. A lay-up by Eric Wilson gave the Lakers their first lead at 29-27 with 7:36 remaining in the opening half. The game would be tied twice, but for the most part, Baseline was able to control the tempo.
Murry had a game-high 25 points to lead two other Laker players into double figures. Brandon Robinson finished with 20 points and Wilson had 10.
"It was just a lack of defense on our part," Murry said. "You have to play defense first. It has always been a trademark of Clayton State to be a good defensive team."
After the score was tied again in the first half at 29-29 with 6:51 remaining, Baseline closed the half on a 19-4 run to take a 48-33 halftime lead. Baseline opened the second half by hitting three 3-pointers and jumpshot to build a 21-point lead. The Lakers were never able to recovery as Baseline built a 29-point lead with 6:06 remaining in the game.
"That run to end the first half was the key to the game," Gibbons said. "Baseline was able to play loose. They had a good combination of big men and guards with a lot of depth. This was good for us."