Photo by Heather Middleton
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. - The Clayton State Laker women's basketball team is heading to the NCAA Division II National Championship game.
Spurred by a second-half defensive surge, Clayton State pulled away with a hard-fought 63-46 triumph over Shaw on Wednesday in the NCAA Division II "Final Four" at the St. Joseph Civic Arena.
The victory improves the No. 2-ranked Lakers to 34-1 overall, and Clayton State advances to Friday's NCAA Division II National Championship game against the winner of the Michigan Tech/Northwest Missouri State winner.
The contest is set for 8 p.m. at the St. Joseph Civic Arena. It will be televised live on ESPN2. This marks the first time ever that a Clayton State team in any sport will play for a national championship.
The Lakers had a lot to overcome against Shaw with the Bears' size and physical play. However, Clayton State limited Shaw to only 24 percent shooting from the field and forced 29 Bear turnovers in pulling away in the second half.
Clayton State clinged to a five-point lead with 12:12 remaining in the game when a lay-up by Aslea Williams brought Shaw to within five, 41-36. But Clayton State finished the game on a 23-10 run to close it out.
A 3-point basket by Brittany Hall stretched the Clayton State lead to 46-36 with 11:18 remaining. The Lakers then pushed the lead to 50-37 on back-to-back lay-ups by Teshymia Tillman and Breanna Fort at the 8:16 mark.
But perhaps the dagger in Shaw's back came at the 5:48 mark when Tillman drained a 3-point basket following a Bear turnover. That gave the Lakers a 55-39 lead.
Clayton State's largest lead of the game was 19 points on three occasions in the final five minutes. A Shacamra Jackson lay-up gave the Lakers a 63-44 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Sophomore forward Kayla Mobley paced the Lakers with 13 points off the bench, followed by senior forward Renee Jackson with 10 points off the bench. Hall scored nine points, and Drameka Griggs and Tanisha Woodard each added eight points.
For Shaw, Demaria Lyles scored 13 points, and Williams scored 11 points. The Bears missed their first 16 shots from the field and fell behind early by 10 points twice in the first half, but Shaw rallied late and cut the Clayton State lead to 27-23 at halftime.
Shaw finished its season 25-12, capping an amazing late-season run with 13 victories in its final 15 games.