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The night Clayton State made basketball history

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

It started way back on Nov. 12, with a 80-69 victory over Catawba College, and ended Friday night, 36 games later, just after 10 p.m., at the Civic Center in St. Joseph, Mo.

Years from now, it will simply be remembered as the night the Clayton State University women's basketball team finished off a near-perfect season and won the school's first-ever national title in any sport, with a 69-50 victory over Michigan Tech.

This collection of talented CSU basketball players used a stifling defense to wear down the Huskies, turning a 31-24 lead at the half, into a second-half, crushing blowout.

It was that defense that made this team special as it went 35-1 over the course of the year. Creating turnovers on one end, and often converting them into a fast-break, easy basket on the other end, was how the Lakers played all year long.

It's the formula head coach Dennis Cox has preached to Clayton State teams since he arrived on campus seven years ago.

It must be working.

As players danced and celebrated on the floor, and television cameras cut to a shot of Clayton State Athletic Director Mason Barfield hugging Cox, it became clear the Southern Crescent' s little college basketball team is now a National Champion.

It's the first women's team from Georgia that can make that claim. Not even Andy Landers and his Georgia Bulldogs can say that.

The Lakers have cut down the nets and walked away with a shinny new trophy to prove it. Now, those two little keepsakes will sit forever in the school's trophy case located just inside the Athletic and Fitness Center, serving as a reminder of this team's amazing accomplishment.

Friday night, after Clayton State's players settled down, and shook off the early-game jitters, it looked very much like they were back in their little gym on the Morrow campus, beating up on another opponent -- just like they did throughout the season.

Clayton State often flies under the radar, but the picturesque, lake-lined campus with an enrollment of about 6,785 students, just put together an unforgettable, perhaps even, life-changing moment for its players, coaches, and many in its surrounding community.

It's an emotion-filled memory CSU players and their charismatic coach will be able to share with their children and grandchildren.

Senior, Tesymia Tillman, had a chance to play at the Division I level when she started her college career at Western Carolina, but when things didn't work out, she found her way to Cox's winning program at CSU.

In just two years, she scored more than 1,000 points for the Lakers, becoming one of the many players to lead this team to basketball's ultimate prize.

Latonda Bruce, Renee Jackson, and Brenna Fort also finished their college careers last night on that basketball stage in Missouri, but not before leaving a lasting impact on this team.

But there are no superstars on this squad. What is special about it is that one player could step up in a game one night, and somebody else would lead the squad to victory the next night.

Jonesboro native, Drameka Griggs, started her career at Jacksonville, only to come home to play for Cox at the start of this season. At the end of the season, she was coming off the bench and averaging more than 10 points per game.

Tanisha Woodard always seemed to finish in double figures for the Lakers, and the good thing is, she will be back for another year.

The Lakers have about 365 days before they have to defend their title, but a lifetime to remember that special moment when they were sitting on top of the basketball world.

Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com