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Excitement building for big CSU basketball game

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Tobi Adedayo says the excitement for Clayton State University's upcoming women's basketball game against Lander University has been building for the last two weeks on the school's main campus in Morrow.

Adedayo, a sophomore psychology major from Tucker, said emotions began to rise when the university's women's basketball team reached a No. 2 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN Division II Women's Basketball Coaches Poll. Clayton State has held the No. 2 spot in three consecutive polls, including the latest one released Tuesday.

So, why the fervor about the game? Lander is the No. 1-ranked team, making the Clayton State-Lander game on Thursday a rare No. 1 versus No. 2 regular-season matchup.

The game will begin at 5:30 p.m., at Clayton State's Athletics and Fitness Center.

"We're very excited, definitely, to have a big game on our campus," Adedayo said. "It's No. 1 against No. 2. That usually doesn't happen."

The university held a homecoming pep rally in its James M. Baker University Center on Tuesday, and while several of the school's successful athletic teams were recognized, the loudest cheers came when the women's basketball team was introduced.

Clayton State Men's Basketball Coach Gordon Gibbons whipped up some of that frenzy, while introducing Women's Basketball Coach Dennis Cox. In the introduction of Cox, Gibbons proclaimed the university's women's team "the best-balanced basketball team in the Southeastern United States."

Lander and Clayton State, both members of the Peach Belt Conference, enter the game as undefeated teams. They are the only undefeated teams left in Division II Women's Basketball, in fact, according to a news release issued the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) on Tuesday. Clayton State is 22-0, while Lander is 23-0.

"This is a really big event, because it gives us a chance to be No. 1 in the country," said Dariana Martinez, a junior nursing major from Augusta.

Another student, Uniqua Walton, a freshman criminal justice major from Buena Vista, Ga., added, "It is going to put Clayton State on the map."

While several CSU students said they are anxious for Thursday's matchup against Lander, they are not alone in their yearning for the game. Gid Rowell, the university's director of alumni relations, said Clayton State alumni from as far away as Texas have been contacting him to let him know they plan to return just to see the game. These are alumni, he said, who may not have otherwise come back for homecoming alone.

"It's really generating a lot of excitement for the university," he said.

Rowell said university officials knew Lander would be a strong team when they picked this week to be Clayton State's homecoming week, but he added that it was just sheer luck that the game ended up being a battle for a national, No. 1 ranking.

"It could easily be the biggest game we've ever had on this campus," he said. "You could probably say that we've had bigger games off campus, in NCAA tournaments and such, but on campus ... I can't remember in my time here, and I've been here for 10 years, a bigger game on this campus."

University officials are telling people to arrive at the school's Athletics and Fitness Center 5 p.m., because they are expecting a sellout crowd.

DeAndrea Anderson, a Clayton State freshman theater major from Elberton, said the fact that this week is homecoming should help create more of a frenzied atmosphere during the game. "It's going to help because ... all of the excitement that's going on with homecoming will just transfer, and put that same energy into the game," Anderson said. "It's going to be a very rowdy crowd."

The Clayton State Men's Basketball team will play Lander's men's team, following the women's game on Thursday, at 7:30 p.m. Clayton State is scheduled to crown its homecoming king and queen during halftime of the men's game.