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Lakers drop Peach Belt contest

From Staff Reports

Up against the 21st-ranked team in the nation, the Clayton State Laker men's basketball appeared in great shape for an upset at in-state rival Georgia College on Saturday.

However, the host Bobcats made a tremendous rally in the second half and over-took Clayton State 74-67 at the Centennial Center. The defeat snaps a three-game winning streak for the Lakers, now 12-9 overall and 5-6 in the Peach Belt Conference. Georgia College is now 18-2 overall and 11-0 in the Peach Belt.

"It's disappointing to play as well as we did in the first half and then struggle so much offensively in the second half," said Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons. "We were ready to play this game and we controlled pretty much first 30 minutes of the game. But give Georgia College credit – they hit some big shots down the stretch."

Clayton State played its game in the first half, limiting a dangerous-shooting Georgia College team to only 27 percent shooting both from the field and 3-point range to lead by 11 points at halftime.

The Lakers jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, and never allowed the Bobcats to get closer than five points in the first half. Lay-ups by Jonathan Austin and Brandon Robinson gave Clayton State a 27-15 lead with 10:14 remaining. That was followed by back-to-back 3-point baskets by Robert Murry and Luvonte Rhines to increase the Laker lead to 39-26 with 1:39 remaining.

Clayton State took a 41-30 lead in at halftime as Murry drained a jump shot as time expired.

The Lakers knew Georgia College would make some runs, and the Bobcats did. Three times, Georgia College cut the Clayton State lead to five points, including a free throw by Andre Mikell to make the score 44-39 at the 14:52 mark. However, center Armon Jones scored twice on the baseline inside to increase the Laker lead to 51-41 with 13:18 remaining.

That's when the Bobcats made their move. Georgia College responded with a 15-0 run over the next six minutes to take a five-point lead. Mikell nailed two straight 3-point baskets; the second gave Georgia College the lead for good 52-51 with 11:45 remaining. Ryan Aquino then converted a lay-up to stretch the Bobcat lead to 56-51 at the 7:41 mark.

Clayton State cut the lead to three points on another inside lay-up by Jones, and then Eric Wilson nailed a 3-point basket against the Georgia College zone to trim the Bobcat lead to 60-59 with 5:29 remaining.

But the turning point in the game came on the Bobcats' ensuing possession when Wilson fouled Georgia College's Ty Rowland on a 3-point attempt. The senior guard sank all three free throws to push the Georgia College lead back to four points, and then Rowland scored on a transition lay-up off a Clayton State turnover on the ensuing possession.

The Lakers committed three turnovers down the stretch that put themselves out of striking distance.

"We did a great job offensively against their zone in the first half, but struggled bad against it in the second half," Gibbons said. "That foul on Eric was the key point of the game. There were a lot of opportunities for us there in the second half."

Murry paced Clayton State with 18 points, while Jones and Timmy Downs each scored eight points. Jones also grabbed nine rebounds as the Lakers out-rebounded Georgia College 45-28.

Mikell was a force off the bench for the Bobcats with a game-high 19 points, followed by Rowland with 18 points. Georgia College shot 52 percent from the field in the second half, 42 percent from 3-point range.

Clayton State hits the road on Thursday for a Peach Belt Conference encounter at Lander at 7:30 p.m.