Clayton State rally lifts Lady Lakers to thrilling victory

From Staff Reports

Just when it appeared the Clayton State Laker women's basketball team was left for dead on Saturday, it found new life.

The Lakers finished off their Division II Top 25 showdown at Francis Marion with a stunning 40-11 run and knocked off the 15th-ranked Patriots 92-82 at the Smith Center. The victory improves 15th-ranked Clayton State to 19-4 overall and 10-3 in the Peach Belt Conference. Francis Marion falls to 20-3 overall and 12-2 in the PBC.

"I wish I could take the credit, but we continued to stick with what we had to do," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "That was an unbelievable run against a very good team. It was them. They never gave up, stuck together and pulled it out."

The Lakers twice trailed by 19 points in the second half. A jump shot by Nicole Mealing gave Francis Marion what appeared to be a comfortable 71-52 lead with 9:49 remaining

However, Clayton State answered with a 14-0 run. Teshymia Tillman drilled a 3-point basket and a lay-up to cut the deficit to nine points. Tillman then sank another 3-point basket to bring the Lakers to within four points 73-69 with 6:39 remaining.

Francis Marion increased the lead to six points before Clayton State responded with a 13-0 run. Tanisha Woodard tied the game at 75-75 with a lay-up at the 5:47 mark, and then a lay-up by Breanna Fort gave the Lakers the lead for good 77-75 with 4:20 remaining.

Brittany Hall followed with a 3-point play, and lay-ups by Latonda Bruce and Fort increased the Clayton State lead to 84-75 at the 3:06 mark. That made it a 32-4 Laker run over almost seven minutes.

Francis Marion never got closer than five points after that. In the final minute, the Lakers made 7-for-8 from the free throw line.

The late run was a polar opposite how Clayton State struggled throughout the first half.

Francis Marion shot 47 percent from the field in the first half, including 40 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. The Patriots three times led by 14 points, and a 3-point basket by Shannon Singleton-Bates gave Francis Marion a 46-29 lead with 3:16 remaining.

An Ebony Fields 3-point basket as time expired gave Francis Marion a 51-36 lead at halftime.

"We were embarrassed with the defensive effort in the first half," Cox said. "We didn't even talk about trying to win the game at halftime. It became a pride thing with us. We didn't want to get totally embarrassed."

Tillman paced five Clayton State players in double-figures with 23 points. Woodard and Fort each scored 14 points, while Bruce added 12 points off the bench. Clayton State shot 46 percent from field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 79 percent from the free throw line.

Fields paced Francis Marion with 19 points, followed by Nicole Mealing with 17 points and Singleton-Bates added 11 points.

Clayton State returns home to the Athletics and Fitness Center on Wednesday for a 5:30 p.m. Peach Belt showdown against in-state rival Columbus State.