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Clayton State women upset in opening round of NCAA Tournament

Clayton State guard Tiayra Green helps set up the Lakers offense in Friday's loss to Limestone in the first round of the NCAA Div. II Tournament. (Special Photo)

Clayton State guard Tiayra Green helps set up the Lakers offense in Friday's loss to Limestone in the first round of the NCAA Div. II Tournament. (Special Photo)

Clayton State fell victim to a day of upsets in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament in North Carolina.

The Lakers, the No. 2 seed in the regional, were defeated 75-65 by Limestone College on Friday afternoon at Shuford Memorial Gymnasium in Hickory, N.C. It was the second time in four seasons that the Lakers have lost in the first round of the tournament.

In 2010, Clayton State was defeated by Tusculum (69-63) in the opening round. The following season, the Lakers would go on to win the national championship.

Against Limestone, the Lakers were led by Bena Hanyard, who had 15 points, while all-conference center Shacamra Jackson finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Tweety Hawkins had 10 points for the Lakers, who finished with a 22-7 record. Limestone, the Carolinas Conference champion and the No. 7 seed in the regional, had four players in double figures.

“I knew today was a going to be a difficult test against an excellent Limestone team,” Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. “They entered the tournament playing some of their best basketball of the season, winning their conference tournament. Sometimes basketball comes down to who hits shots, and they hit the big shots down the stretch.”

The Saints, who have a 12-game winning streak, were led by Celestra Warren, who had a game-high 21 points, and Jasmine Kearse finished with 21 points. Also scoring in double figures for the Saints were Ayshia McNeil with 12 points and Precilla Hill had 11 points.

Limestone will meet conference foe Belmont Abbey on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the semifinals of the regional. During the regular season, Belmont Abbey won both games, including a 74-64 win, which was the Saints last loss on the season.

The Limestone-Clayton State contest was a rematch of last year’s NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Championship final at the Athletics Center in Morrow. Clayton State prevailed in the contest 87-65, advancing to the “Elite Eight.” The matchup was the first meeting in the series between the two schools.

Limestone (24-5) enters the NCAA Tournament playing arguably its best basketball of the year, winning a season-best 11 straight games en route to the Conference Carolinas regular season and tournament titles. The program has posted its third straight 20-win campaign.

Belmont Abbey, the No. 6 seed, upset No. 3 Wingate in the opening game of the tournament. It was the Crusaders first NCAA Tournament win since the 1999 season. Wingate, the South Atlantic Conference regular-season and tournament champion concluded the season at 24-6 overall.