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Clayton State takes on Lander in Peach Belt Conference tournament

Clayton State will be counting on Tweety Hawkins to help the Lakers defend their Peach Belt Conference championship this week in Columbus. (Special Photo: Jerry Jackson)

Clayton State will be counting on Tweety Hawkins to help the Lakers defend their Peach Belt Conference championship this week in Columbus. (Special Photo: Jerry Jackson)

Lander vs. Clayton State

When, where: 7 p.m., Thursday at Frank G. Lumpkin Center in Columbus

Records, seeding: Lander is 12-16 and the No. 4 seed from the East division; Clayton State is 21-5 and the No. 1 from the West.

Series: Clayton State leads 18-8 in the all-time series, including an 87-75 win at home on Feb. 1.

Scouting the Bearcats: The young Bearcat team has nine freshman and sophomores on the roster and features a balanced scoring attack with four players in double-digits. The squad has been led by guard Kayla West averaging 14.2 points per game, followed by forwards Alexis Armstrong and Portia McCray at 11 points per game. Guard Ty’Hesha Reynolds averages 12.5 points per game.

What’s next: A match-up with the Flagler vs. Columbus State winner on Friday at 4 p.m.

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In her final regular season home game, Clayton State senior Shacamra Jackson recorded a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a single-game record 10 blocks in an 86-75 victory over rival Columbus State on Saturday. (Special Photo: Jerry Jackson)

MORROW — The March Madness for Clayton State will begin Thursday in the Peach Belt Conference tournament.

With the conference regular season title safely tucked away, the Lakers now turn their attention to the tournament, which starts Thursday in Columbus.

Clayton State, the top seed from the West division of the conference will take on No. 4 seed Lander. The Lakers won the earlier home match-up between the teams, and holds an 18-8 all-time lead in the series.

But don’t expect the Lakers to come into the 7 p.m. game at the Lumpkin Center on the Columbus State campus over confident.

Repeating as conference tournament champions and hosting a regional tournament is the team’s big motivation. In years that the Lakers have hosted a regional, they have advanced far into the NCAA Division II tournament.

“We feel that hosting a regional is very important to us,” Lakers coach Dennis Cox said. “You always feel comfortable playing at home.”

And that showed Saturday in the final regular season game. Clayton State defeated Columbus State 86-75 behind a big effort from senior Shacamra Jackson on Senior Day. The center/forward was one of three seniors playing in their final regular season game at the Athletics Center.

The Marietta native had a record-setting game.

Jackson recorded a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a single-game record 10 blocks.

In addition to Jackson’s triple-double and single-game record for blocked shots, she also set the school’s single season record for blocks with 95 on the year. Last season, Jackson was named the conference’s defensive player of the year.

“It was great to see Shay (Jackson) have that kind of game on Senior Day,” Cox said. “She never ceases to amaze me. She has meant so much to our program over the last four years. It will be sad to see her go. Tweety (Hawkins) really stepped up for us tonight as well, and Bena (Hanyard) finished with confidence down the stretch that helped seal the win. It was hard fought, and we know we were fortunate to get it done against an excellent Columbus team.”

Hawkins had a career night, scoring a team-high 25 points, which included 9-of-14 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.

Clayton State led 44-35 at intermission and pushed its lead to 12 points, 54-42, at the 15:19 mark with a layup by center Andrea Benford. After both teams swapped baskets over the next five minutes, a basket by Columbus’ Asha Alexander cut Laker lead to single digits, 62-54. The margin remained under 10 until Clayton State’s late game-winning stretch.

With the win, Clayton State enters the conference tournament on a 13-game winning streak as it improved to 21-5 overall. Lander comes in the game off a 64-61 win at Francis Marion on Saturday to clinch a playoff spot. The win snapped a two-game losing streak by the Bearcats.

“We are definitely looking forward to the tournament,” senior Bena Hanyard said. “We struggled some this season, but the team is playing well now.”