Tiayra Green says its a must to learn to play good defense to get some playing time at Clayton State. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
MORROW — Clayton State coach Dennis Cox says it was either his stubbornness, or the belief that he had in his team that prompted him to keep pushing them to master his defensive philosophy.
The defending Peach Belt Conference champions were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, when Cox decided it was going to be his way.
And although the team gave up 93 points in a loss at North Georgia, Cox was convinced the team had grasped what he was teaching.
“I think I was going to force that square peg in a round hole,” Cox joked. “We lost the game, but I saw a lot of improvement in our team. It was that day that we took a big step towards becoming a better defensive team. I was real stubborn that we were going to continue to play our defensive style.”
And that stubborn attitude seems to now be working.
Entering Wednesday’s game at Young Harris, the Lakers are on an 11-game winning streak and in first place in the conference with two games remaining in the regular season. The Lakers are trying to position themselves for an NCAA Div. II tournament berth.
To do that, Cox said his team will have to continue to play sound defense. During the 11-game win streak, Clayton State has allowed its opponents an average of 60.5 points per game. The Lakers will be trying to avenge a 45-44 loss at home to Young Harris on Jan. 8 to continue to build a sound resume.
“We are playing much smarter, and our defense has allowed us to dictate the tempo,” Cox said.
Laker players say the easiest way to draw praise from Cox is to perform well on the defensive end of the court.
“Defense is the most important part of our game,” senior forward Shacamra Jackson said. “I love to play defense. We work on it a lot in practice every day. If you do good on defense in practice, coach Cox will praise you.”
Last season, Jackson was named the top defensive player in the conference.
She said the team ended its three-game skid once it got a better handle on the defensive concept, especially the younger players. Clayton State had to replace four starters from last season’s tournament championship team that reached the NCAA Div. II Elite Eight in San Antonio.
Tiayra Green, a Riverdale native that transferred from Chattahoochee Tech, says learning Cox’s defense is paramount in the team’s success.
“Our press is what Clayton State is known for,” said Green, who played at Div. I Tulsa after graduating from Riverdale High. “If you can grasp the defense here, you can get a lot of playing time. We have to play good defense and get out and run with the ball.”
Cox said learning the concept of his defensive philosophy isn’t that hard, but executing it is the key.
“I don’t know if it as difficult to learn as it is to do it,” Cox said. “It just has to become instinctive. It took the new players a little longer to learn it than I wished, but better late than never. The players have really committed to working hard in practice. I think the kids are really buying into it.”
And the success has shown on the court.