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CSU ends season as Tusculum rallies to beat Lakers in NCAA Tournament

From Staff Reports

GREENWOOD, S.C.-- Playing in its sixth straight NCAA Division II National Tournament, the Clayton State Laker women's basketball team could not stop a late rally by Tusculum on Friday as the Pioneers knocked off Clayton State 69-63 at Lander's Horne Arena.

The defeat ends 19th-ranked Clayton State's season at 24-7 overall. Tusculum improves to 21-9 overall and will play Francis Marion in the second round on Saturday at Lander.

"I really don't know why, but we didn't play with the energy that we've been playing with," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "That's real important for us to play our style and to have the success that we've had this year and every year requires a great amount of energy. I'm going to have to go back and ask myself and figure out why. I thought we did what we normally do in preparation."

Clayton State held a 52-42 lead with 11:07 remaining in the game, but Tusculum finished the game on a 27-11 run.

Kendall Baxter sank a 3-point basket to bring the Pioneers to within five points, 52-47 with 8:53 remaining.

After the two teams traded baskets, Tusculum's defensive zone held the Lakers without a field goal over a four-minute span.

Tusculum, meanwhile, took a three-point lead on a free throw by Morrow graduate Jasmine Parker at the 5:05 mark.

Clayton State reclaimed the lead on a 15-foot jumper by Breanna Fort, but the Pioneers took the lead for good 60-59 on a lay-up by center Catherine Hintz at the 2:40 mark. Tusculum's Jasmine Gunn got a steal on Clayton State's next possession, scored on a transition lay-up, and was fouled.

Gunn converted a three-point play to make it 63-59 with 2:18 left.

After another Laker turnover, Gunn drove in for a lay-up to make it 65-59 Tusculum at the 1:50 mark.

Lesheria Stevens scored for Clayton State to bring the Lakers to within four, but Hintz hauled in a long pass from Brittni Oliver and scored under the basket to give the Pioneers a 67-61 lead with one minute remaining.

The Lakers had a chance in the final minute after Fort made two free throws to pull them within four, 67-63, with 52 seconds left.

Clayton State forced a turnover on the inbounds play, but the Lakers could convert some key shots in the waning seconds.

"We've been seeing a lot of zones lately probably because our best three-point shooter (Brittany Hall) went out with three games to go in the regular season with a broken hand. But we didn't attack and penetrate like we had to do," Cox said. "That gave us problems and that was very good adjustment that they made. Other people have done it and we have handled it better."I feel like we didn't have the confidence in shooting the ball in our open looks from behind the arc. We also didn't attack it."

Tanisha Woodard paced Clayton State with 15 points, including 13 in the first half when the Lakers led by as many as 13 points and held a 39-30 advantage at halftime. Fort recorded a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench, and Stevens concluded her Laker career with 10 points.

Gunn, the South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, scored 21 points for Tusculum, followed by Baxter with 14 points. Parker scored 12 points, and Hintz added 10 points off the bench for the Pioneers.

Tusculum shot 52 percent from the field for the game, the first opponent this season to shoot better than 50 percent against Clayton State.