Photo by Derrick Mahone
Clayton State guard Kayla Pryce receives the ball from the game official as she attempts to inbound it during first-half action of the team’s win over Mount Olive in the NCAA Div. II tournament in Morrow.
MORROW — When Clayton State wasn’t scoring from the perimeter, the top-ranked Lakers were pounding the ball inside.
And in between the proficient scoring, the Lakers defense was physically dismantling upstart Mount Olive on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Div. II Southeast Regional.
Another dominating performance by the Lakers earned them a 91-58 win at the Athletics and Fitness Center and a step closer at a chance for the national title.
Clayton State forward Kayla Mobley was dominant in the paint with 20 points and 10 rebounds while guard Drameka Griggs showed why she is the Southeast Region most valuable player. The Ellenwood native finished with 22 points and four assists in the win.
“They were themselves, and they did what they do,” Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. “We started out a little sluggish in the first half, but that was kind of expected.”
Mount Olive, the Conference Carolinas champion, kept it close for the first 11 minutes of the contest before the Lakers took control. A combination of Mount Olive’s two best players getting in foul trouble and the Lakers superior physical style of play was too much for the visitors to overcome.
“They are more of a perimeter team,” Cox said. “I thought our power game kept us in it early. Kayla was really aggressive on the boards. She was really relentless out there.”
The Lakers forced Mount Olive into 31 turnovers.
“They are the best team we have faced as far as size and strength,” Mount Olive coach Wendy Lee said. “They are a very physical and strong team, and it worked to their advantage out there. When they get their momentum, it is hard to stop.”
After the score was tied at 20-20 with 9:53 remaining in the opening half, Clayton State started taking control of the contest. The Lakers, who improved to 30-0 on the season, used a 28-10 run in the last 8:59 of the first half to take a 48-30 halftime lead, which proved too much for Mount Olive to overcome.
The Lakers would use another big second-half spurt to further put the game out of reach.
Griggs scored a game-high 22 points in 28 minutes of action.
Lee said that Clayton State took advantage of the opportunity when her two best players got into foul trouble early in the game.
“When our key players went out, they amped up their game pressure defense. They are a tremendous defensive team, and that has been their M.O,” Lee said.
And leading the charge was Griggs, who came off the bench to give the team a spark. In addition to her game-high points, the former Jonesboro High standout had two of the team’s 19 steals.
“She gives them a spark,” Lee said of Griggs, who chooses to come off the bench instead of starting.
“What a luxury,” Cox joked about Griggs. “She is a game-changer. She is a very dynamic player.”
Clayton State takes on Peach Belt Conference foe USC Aiken on Saturday at 7 p.m. with the winner advances to Monday’s regional championship game against the Limestone-Pfeiffer winner.
Mount Olive came into the game on a hot streak after an impressive run to its conference championship. The Lakers had reason to be concerned about Mount Olive because in 2008, it knocked off a top seed in Indiana (Pa.) in a first round game.
It was no such magic this time for the Trojans, as Clayton State proved to be too strong and physical.
“Give a lot of credit to Mount Olive because they competed harder then we did in the first 10-12 minutes of the game,” Cox said. “They made a lot of hustle plays. It helped once we got our press going.”
The Falcons finished their season with an 18-12 record. They were led by Jasmine McDonald, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds while Joneiqua Gary had 14 points.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Lee said. “I don’t think the score is really a good indication of the game. We fell short today and the score is what it is. We played blow for blow with them when we had all our top players in there. It was a tremendous season for us.”