By Brian Paglia
Just 1 minute 32 seconds into the game, No. 18 Clayton State women's basketball team had a crisis. Visiting Armstrong Atlantic whirled around the court from the opening tip, zipped passes up and down the floor and tested the Lady Lakers' pressure man defense.
On Armstrong Atlantic's first two possessions, the Lady Lakers spent more time figuring out which Lady Pirates player was theirs to defend than focusing on defensive execution, so Clayton State coach Dennis Cox called a timeout.
"I called a timeout to make sure they at least knew who they were guarding," Cox said.
Clayton State regrouped coming out of the timeout, though it took the Lady Lakers until the second half to truly flex its style of basketball on Armstrong Atlantic. Then Clayton State's pressure defense facilitated its transition offense, allowing it to earn an 83-64 victory over the Lady Pirates in a Peach Belt Conference game Wednesday.
"We're capable of turning it on whenever we want to. What frustrates we me is that we're taking so long to do it," Cox said, citing several sluggish starts to recent games.
"I've got to figure it out. I don't know what it is. Nothing against Armstrong Atlantic, if we play Georgia College or Lander or Francis Marion, we're not going to win. We've got to play two halves."
Clayton State (15-3, 6-2) trailed by as much as five points in the first half before an 11-2 run seemed to steady the Lady Lakers and give them a 26-22 lead.
There was much to fix going into halftime tied at 33. Lady Lakers leading scorer Teshymia Tillman was scoreless and took just three shots. Clayton State shot 36.1 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point range.
Tillman asserted herself in the second half, and Clayton State asserted its tempo. Tillman and LaDe'Sha Stoudamire each finished several athletic drives to the basket in transition and on second chance chances. One by Tillman gave Clayton State a 57-44 lead and all the momentum it needed.
"It wasn't all about me," said Tillman, who finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. "It was about getting my team on the right page so we could get some movement going. In the first half we weren't playing together. In second half, after we got pumped up in the locker room, we came back out and played more team ball, ran our stuff and stayed pretty focused."
Sophomore guard Tanisha Woodard led Clayton State with 23 points with five rebounds and four assists. Stoudamire finished with a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. The Lady Lakers shot 52.5 percent in the second half and cut their turnovers down dramatically.
Armstrong Atlantic entered the night just 6-10 overall and 3-5 in the conference, but that didn't diminish the importance of this game for Clayton State. Two conference losses have put the Lady Lakers, who were preseason favorites to win the conference, in a precarious dilemma.
"We can't fall any further behind," Cox said. "We don't control our own destiny. Playing teams behind us, like tonight, we can't lose these games."
Clayton State men 67, Armstrong Atlantic 56
Thanks to a strong defensive effort, the Lakers were able to hold off a Pirates team mired in the struggles of transition and break a two-game losing streak.
Clayton State (10-8, 3-5) held Armstrong Atlantic to just 27.9 percent shooting from the floor and got offensive contributions from 10 different players.
Jaquas Dobbs led the way with 13 points, while his brother Juron, Robert Murry and Brandon Robinson each finished with nine. Juron and Armon Jones dominated the boards, grabbing 10 and 12 rebounds, respectively.