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Clayton State pull 2-OT upset after remarkable reprieve

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State players (from left) Reco Lewis, Tyrone Black and Tony Dukes listen to coach Gordon Gibbons during a first-half timeout in the Lakers’ 85-84 double overtime win over Georgia Southwestern on Wednesday in a Peach Belt Conference game. 

Photo by Derrick Mahone Clayton State players (from left) Reco Lewis, Tyrone Black and Tony Dukes listen to coach Gordon Gibbons during a first-half timeout in the Lakers’ 85-84 double overtime win over Georgia Southwestern on Wednesday in a Peach Belt Conference game. 

When you catch a break the size of the one Clayton State’s men’s basketball team caught Wednesday night, you don’t let it slip through your fingers — even if it takes two overtimes to wrestle it under control.

That’s what the Lakers did against No. 17-ranked Georgia Southwestern in their Peach Belt Conference opener, against the team that was the consensus preseason pick to finish first in the league.

Anthony Salter scored six of his 15 points in the second overtime — including the winning layup with 2.2 seconds left — as the Lakers prevailed 85-84 at their Athletics and Fitness Center.

The Lakers (7-1 overall, 1-0 PBC) won once because the Hurricanes (6-2, 0-2) couldn’t win twice. Shooting 56 percent in the second half, Georgia Southwestern whittled a 13-point deficit down to one in the final minute. It was two after Salter missed the back end of a one-and-one with 12.9 seconds left in regulation.

Out of timeouts, the Hurricanes scrambled the length of the court and as the final seconds ticked away, suddenly Will Kenimer found the ball in his hands — standing a full stride behind the 3-point line, according to those with the closest view along the sideline. Kenimer lofted a shot that hit nothing but net, the apparent game-winner, and the Hurricanes erupted in jubilation all over the court while the Lakers trudged away in stunned dejection.

But it was short-lived jubilation and temporary dejection. The lead referee ruled — surprisingly, in the absence of instant replay — that Kenimer’s shot was a two. Instead of a one-point Georgia Southwestern victory, the score was tied.

Hurricanes coach Mike Leeder protested vehemently before the same referee shoved him back toward his bench. Two overtimes later, asked if his team had caught a huge break, Clayton State coach Gordon Gibbons said, matter of factly, “Yeah, no question.”

Securing the victory became Salter’s mission.

“I had missed too many free throws and I felt I owed it to my team,” said Salter, who was 4 of 8 from the line.

Even as the Hurricanes celebrated an apparent victory, Salter wasn’t having it. “Never did it cross my mind that we had lost the game,” he said.

Evan Mobley led Georgia Southwestern with 26 points — 21 in the second half — and carried his team in the second overtime. His layup with 9.5 seconds left in the second tiebreaker gave the Hurricanes an 84-83 lead. But Salter, determination etched on his face, resolved to win the game.

“Salt’s huge,” said Gibbons, who earned his 197th Clayton State victory and the 443rd of his career. “When you watch him play, he’s a rhythm shooter, a streaker. One thing I tell him is ‘Just keep playing.’ You want the ball his hands when the game’s on the line, that’s for sure.”

Division II All-American forward Phillip Brown, the former Eagle’s Landing Christian star, contributed 21 points and 19 rebounds for Georgia Southwestern, helping the Hurricanes to a 51-35 advantage on the boards. But the Lakers negated that edge with active hands in the passing lanes, and forced the Hurricanes to commit nine more turnovers than they did (21-12).

“Obviously, that was a huge difference in the game,” Gibbons said.

Teondre Williams led the Lakers with 20 points and set the tone with three 3-pointers in an early, 86-second span of the first half. Clayton State’s perimeter game opened things inside for 6-foot-9, 250-pound Andrew Bachanov, who had 16 points — including an improbable, banked 3-pointer of his own with 6:15 left in regulation.

Williams set the tone on the sideline, too, once the game went to overtime.

“He came over to the bench — and you know, he’s soft-spoken — but he jumped on everyone,” Gibbons said. “He said, ‘We’re winning this game.’ You could kind of see the look in his eyes.”

But it was Salter in the end who did the most damage.

“You’ve got to congratulate Clayton State,” Leeder said afterward. “They made the plays down the stretch. I’m disappointed for my players, but not disappointed in them.”

Even while accepting fans’ congratulatory back slaps as he exited the court, Salter wouldn’t allow himself to get too carried away.

“It’s our first conference win,” Salter said, “but we’ve got a long way to go.”