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Clayton State hangs on for win in conference opener

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State guard Genesis Kelly looks to the sideline during a break in the second-half action of the fifth-ranked Lakers’ 66-62 win over visiting Georgia Southwestern on Wednesday in a Peach Belt Conference game. 

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State guard Genesis Kelly looks to the sideline during a break in the second-half action of the fifth-ranked Lakers’ 66-62 win over visiting Georgia Southwestern on Wednesday in a Peach Belt Conference game. 

Clayton State coach Dennis Cox wasn’t pleased with the process, but he was certainly happy with the outcome.

Cox watched as he team struggled in the first half, opened a big lead in the second, and finally hung on for a 66-62 win over visiting Georgia Southwestern Wednesday at the Athletics and Fitness Center.

Clayton State trailed most of the first half before opening up a 14-point lead with a little over seven minutes to play in the game. However, the fifth-ranked Lakers were never able to put Georgia Southwestern away.

The Hurricanes would tie the game at 62-62 with 1:18 remaining on a pair of Tania Walters’ free throws. But Clayton State’s Kayla Mobley and Tanisha Woodard combined for four free throws in the last minute of the game to seal the team’s Peach Belt Conference opener.

“We didn’t play real hard in the first half,” Cox said. “We can out a little better to open the second half. I’m disappointed that we didn’t put this team away. Georgia Southwestern played well enough to win.”

The Hurricanes (8-2, 1-1) were hampered by their 30 turnovers. Some of that was attributed to Clayton State’s pressure defense.

“We made some poor decisions at the wrong times,” Georgia Southwestern coach Kelly Bristly said. “If it’s any consolation, we played with Clayton State tonight. We just didn’t play well enough to win. If we can play with one of the top teams in the conference, I think we have something to build on.”

Georgia Southwestern seemed to have difficulty with the Lakers’ 2-2-1 press in the second half. Each time the Hurricanes would make a run at Clayton State, one of the Laker players would come up with a big shot or steal.

“They are very tough,” Bristly said. “That 2-2-1 press is their bread and butter. Clayton State is a team of spurts.”

Clayton State was leading 59-45 with 7:11 remaining before the Hurricanes made a push. The Hurricanes would outscore Clayton State 15-3 to pull within 62-60 with 1:18 remaining.

Walters would make a two free throws to tie the game, but the Hurricanes missed its final three field goal shots in the last 57 seconds.

Clayton State junior guard Drama Grills said part of the team’s sluggish first half could be attributed to the team’s recent travels. The Lakers played in Puerto Rico over the weekend.

“We have been going strong for about a week and a half,” said Grills, who finished a team-high 13 points Wednesday. “Our legs were a little tired. We got a big lead, but you know teams are going to make a run.”

Luckily, the Lakers made some clinch free throw shooting to weather Georgia Southwestern’s late run.

“We played the second half with more intensity,” Woodard said. “We were able to knock down some shots and played some good defense. We tried to continue to build on the lead. I thought we did what we had to do to get the win.”