`By Derrick Mahone
During his postgame interview, Clayton State men's coach Gordon Gibbons used the word consistent several times to describe his team's 67-58 home win over Columbus State Wednesday.
It is a word that at one point during the seaon didn't fit the description of his the Lakers team.
Wednesday at the Athletics & Fitness Center wasn't one of those times.
Clayton State took an early double-digit lead on its Columbus State in a Peach Belt Conference game and was able to maintain the lead throughout the game.
"In the early part of the season, we weren't very consistent," Gibbons said. "In the last 10 games, nine of them were led deep into the second half, but have only managed a 6-3 record. We could have very easily been 9-0 or 8-1 in the games."
The Lakers have grown as a team throughout the season, and the players see the difference.
"We have learned to finish games," said guard Timothy Downs, who finished with a game-high 20 points. "We are right were we need to be at this point in the season. We are starting to believe in each other. In the first half of the season, we weren't together. We were trying to feel each other out. Now, things are clicking, and we are on the same page."
Gibbons has some praised for his point guard, who finished with five assists to go alone with his points in 29 minutes.
"When Downs is good, we are a really good team," Gibbons said.
The Lakers improved to 14-10 overall and 7-7 in the conference while Columbus State dropped to 11-12 and 5-9. Clayton State has three more games, one at home on Feb. 27 before the conference tournament. Only the top eight teams in the 13-team lead make the postseason.
"We are two (games) up on the others on teams we are battling," Gibbons said. "Once you are in the playoffs, it is one and done."
Lakers forward Brandon Robinson finished with 18 points, 14 in the first half to get the team off to a fast start. Clayton State led 38-24 at the intermission as they were pretty much in control throughout the game.
"It was real important for the team to get off to a fast start," Robinson said. "We were get off to a strong start, it put our opponents in a bind. Coach talked about finishing games. We just had to keep our composure.
Columbus State (women) 67, Clayton State 61 OT: The Lakers jumped to an early lead, but was unable to hold on as they lost in overtime.
Clayton State built a 22-13 lead with 12:30 remaining in the first half, but failed to score the rest of the half. Renee Jackson made a jumper in the lane to give Columbus State a 23-21 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the first half. The Cougars would keep the lead until Brittany Hall made a layup with 4:57 remaining to tie the game at 49-49.
"They went to a 2-3 zone in the first half, and we couldn't solve it," Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. "We stopped attacking, and that is what you have to do against a zone. We started settling for jumpshots."
The Cougars patiently got back into the game as All-American center Phebe Smith started to dominate in the paint. Smith, the younger sister of Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds.
"She is a dominate player," Cox said. "We knew she was going to get hers. She is an All-American for a reason."
After the Lakers tied the game at 49-49, Columbus State regained the lead on a jumper fro Monique Jefferson with 4:32 remaining. Clayton State would get the lead at 52-51on a 3-pointer from Hall with 3:54 remaining.
Ashley Stafford had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, but missed a jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime tied at 54-54.
Clayton State would take an early lead in the extra period, but again couldn't maintain it. Nakita Holt would hit a pair of free throws with 2:30 remaining to give Columbus State a 60-59 lead. The Lakers would not be able to recovery.
"I think we came out in the first half a little too excited," Columbus State coach Jonathan Norton said. "We were playing too fast, and made some mistakes."