Photo by Heather Middleton
Next stop, St. Joseph, Mo.
That's next on the Clayton State Lady Lakers' travel plans after they clinched a spot in the NCAA Division II Elite 8.
The Lakers cut down the nets with a 76-60 victory over Lander to claim the Southeast Regional title Monday night. The game was played in front of a packed gym on the Clayton State campus.
Kayla Mobley led the way with 21 points for CSU. Tournament MVP Teshymia Tillman added 21 and Drameka Griggs, who was also on the All-tournament team, finished with 12.
Tillman, who has only played at CSU for two years, went over the 1,000-point mark in her career.
"That's nice, but it's not something I am thinking about," she said. "We have three more games we want to win."
Cox is excited his team has been able to beat Lander twice, but still has plenty of respect for the Bearcats.
"It's a shame somebody had to lose this basketball game," Cox said. "I really think we are the best two teams in the country."
Cox might be right.
The two Peach Belt Conference rivals each spent about a month during the regular season ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II poll.
Clayton State stole the No. 1-ranking away from Lander in the first meeting last month when the Lakers won an epic two-point victory against the Bearcats.
For a time, it looked like Monday night's rematch was heading for another classic showdown. Clayton State led 32-29 at the end of the first half in a game where the lead changed hands 10 times in the first 20 minutes.
Clayton State took control of the game in the second half opening with a 10-2 run with 16:18 left to play in the game. Mobley's basket during the run gave the Lakers a double digit lead at 42-31.
Lander made one final attempt to get back in the game with a run of its own. Brianna Webb's 3-point basket with 10:32 left in the game cut the Lakers' lead to 49-45, but that's as close as the Bearcats got.
The Lakers went on a 17-0 run, stopping Lander's momentum for the last time.
Clayton State played solid defense throughout the game holding Lander to 42.6 percent shooting.
The Lakers denied Lander's leading scorer Shannon McKever many shot opportunities. McKever, who came into the game averaging 17.2 points per game, only had 10 in Monday's regional final.
Teammate Brittini Johnson, led the way with 14. Mukia Myrick and Tasheba Butler each had 10.
Clayton State's defense forced Lander into 22 turnovers.
The Lakers shot 54.7 percent for the game. They also converted 77.8 percent from the free throw line, hitting 14 of 18 attempts.
"We really had to step up our defense tonight," said Mobley. "We know they can score. We had to stop the run outs and stop McKever on the inside."
Clayton State improved to 32-1. Lander ends its season with a school best 29-4 record.
The Lakers will open up play at the Elite 8 tournament on March 22 against the winner of tonight's Bentley-Pace game.