From Staff Reports
The Clayton State Laker women's basketball team continue to add to its growing hardware.
Paced by a stellar performance by guard Teshymia Tillman, the Lakers won their third Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship in the last six seasons with an impressive 94-75 victory over Francis Marion on Sunday at the Convocation. T
The victory improves 21st-ranked Clayton State to 24-6 and it clinches the Lakers' sixth straight NCAA Division II National Tournament berth.
The Lakers now face Tusculum (19-9) in the first round of the NCAA II Tournament at Lander University on Friday. The other quarterfinal match-ups pit top-seeded Lander (25-3) against eighth-seeded Anderson (20-10), third-seeded Francis Marion (26-4) against sixth-seeded Newberry (21-7) and South Atlantic Conference rivals Carson-Newman (23-6) against Lenoir-Rhyne (21-7) in the battle of the fourth and fifth seeds.
Game times are still to be set.
In addition, Clayton State has won six of its seven games against 18th-ranked Francis Marion (26-4).
"For us to control that game the way we did, I'm still a little bit in awe of our kids," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "We just had a resolve about us today and I'm impressed by the way we hung together.
"Because of the way we've been playing, that's why I believed (in us). Not because of anything done in the past."
Tillman had a banner game for the Lakers with a career-high 34 points and a double-double with a career-high 15 rebounds in garnering PBC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. She tied both the Clayton State and Peach Belt Conference single-game record for field goals with 14, and missed tying the Clayton State single-game scoring mark by one point.
In addition, Tillman became the first Clayton State player to eclipse 500 points scored in a season. She now stands at 523 points for the season.
But Tillman wasn't alone in the Laker glory. Tanisha Woodard recorded her second straight double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Genesis Kelly scored 13 points off the bench and Lesheria Stevens added 12 points. Woodard joined Tillman on the All-Tournament team.
Clayton State built a 16-point lead early and stretched its lead to as much as 22 points. The Lakers shot 54 percent from the field in the first half. However, Francis Marion finished the half on a 23-7 run on the strength on three 3-point baskets by Nicole Mealing to trim the Clayton State lead to 49-44 at halftime.
"They're (Francis Marion) so explosive that you know no lead is safe," Cox said. "It felt like a one-point game the whole game to us because that's how much respect we have for them. They cut the lead down to five, quickly, just before half and even though we were frustrated with that at halftime, it may have been a blessing in disguise because it showed us that it can happen again.
"We did a better job of staying focused."
Stay focused the Lakers did. Clayton State opened up the second half with a 15-4 run to take a 16-point lead and never looked back. Twice, the Lakers increased its lead to 20 points, including 82-62 on a jump shot by Kelly with 5:27 remaining.
Mealing paced four Patriots in double-figures with 17 points, followed by Shannon Singleton-Bates with 14 points, Eboni Fields scored 13 points and Shana Franks added 10 points.