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Defense, confidence key to Clayton State streak

Clayton State guard Bena Hanyard is averaging 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a game as the Lakers are in the midst of a five-game winning streak. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Clayton State guard Bena Hanyard is averaging 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a game as the Lakers are in the midst of a five-game winning streak. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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Clayton State coach Dennis Cox says his team’s commitment to defense has been a big key in the Lakers winning streak. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

MORROW — It seemed easy for Shacamra Jackson to point to the two keys to Clayton State’s latest success.

The senior forward says defense, and the ability to play with more confidence has led to the Lakers’ current five-game winning streak.

“It all starts with defense for us,” Jackson said. “Our defense is what our coach praises about us every practice. If our defense is going well in practice, then it is a good practice.”

With an 87-75 win over Lander on Saturday afternoon, the Lakers improved to 13-5 overall and 8-3 in Peach Belt Conference play. The Lakers host Georgia Regent University in a 5:30 p.m. game.

Clayton State is currently in fourth place in the West division of the conference, but the team has played much better over the last few weeks. Following a three-game losing skid that dropped them out of the national rankings for the first time in three seasons, the Lakers are finding their winning rhythm once again.

“Our confidence is high,” Jackson said. “It was our lack of confidence that was costing us in the earlier games.”

The turnaround for the Lakers started after a 93-81 loss at North Georgia. Following that loss, the team has won five straight, including Saturday’s win over visiting Lander.

Clayton State led by double-digits for most of the second half against Lander, but did have to hold off a late Lander rally in the victory. After leading by as many as 20 points with less than 12 minutes remaining, the Bearcats cut the deficit to 76-70, with 3:05 left in the contest.

The Lakers answered though with six unanswered points in less than a minute to regain control of the game. Jackson, Green and guard Bena Hanyard all scored buckets during the mini-run. Two free throws by Hanyard gave the Lakers an 82-70 lead with 2:21 remaining.

Lander made one final push and cut the deficit to nine on a 3-point play by guard Ty’hesa Reynolds but would come no closer. The Lakers rattled off five straight points to seal the victory.

“A good win against a good opponent,” coach Dennis Cox said. “We knew Lander wouldn’t go away, and as always, it was a battle until the end. I’m proud of our kids for hanging in there.”

Included in the five-game win streak is an 88-70 win over then-No. 19 North Georgia at home.

Tiayra Green, a Riverdale native, said the losing streak weighed heavy on several of the new players to the program. It was the first time during the Cox coaching era at Clayton State that the team had lost more than two games in a row.

“We took it personally,” said Green, who transferred from Div. I Tulsa last season. “It was hard losing that many games, and we knew it was our fault. We just had to come out and play hard to turn this around.”