March 16, 2009

Courtesy of Clayton State

HICKORY, N.C. – March 16, 2009 – For the second time in the last three seasons, the Clayton State Laker women’s basketball team is NCAA Division II "Elite Eight" bound!

With four players scoring in double-figures, Clayton State punched its ticket to next week’s NCAA Division II "Elite Eight" in San Antonio with a thrilling 89-73 victory over Peach Belt Conference rival Francis Marion in the Division II Southeast Regional championship on Monday at Lenoir-Rhyne. The Lakers improve to 26-6 overall with the victory, their third straight and sixth in their last seven games.

"We knew we had a good enough team to have a chance this weekend," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "Francis Marion is a great team with a tremendous collection of talent. But I cannot say enough about how our players stepped up tonight and played their hearts out."

Clayton State did what it needed to do to defeat an athletic, dangerous team in Francis Marion (27-5). The Lakers out-rebounded the Patriots 47-45, and committed only 21 turnovers against a Francis Marion team that led the nation in turnovers forced at 34 a game.

Senior forward Lisa Jackson recorded a double-double with a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guard Marie St. Fort wrapped up Southeast Regional Most Valuable Player honors with 16 points and six rebounds. Senior forward Shanrika Hardeman also recorded a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds and junior Lesheria Stevens also had 18 points.

Stevens and Hardeman joined St. Fort on the All-Tournament team.

The Lakers overcame an early eight-point lead by Francis Marion and three times took a 15-point lead in the first half. Nikkisha Pritchett twice scored on lay-ups, and a jump shot by Hardeman staked Clayton State to a 50-38 lead at halftime. The Lakers shot 50 percent from the field in the first half.

Clayton State opened the second half with a 12-1 run as Hardeman scored six points during the rally. Her jumper in the lane off an offensive rebound gave the Lakers a 62-39 lead at the 16:57 mark. The Lakers equaled that 23-point lead two more times, with a jump shot by Stevens giving Clayton State a 76-53 lead with 10:28 left.

However, there was no quit in Francis Marion. The Patriots answered with a 16-1 run over the next six minutes to cut the Clayton State lead to eight points. A 3-point play by Jennifer Dyer cut the Laker lead to 77-69 at the 3:14 mark.

But a 3-point basket by Stevens was the answer the Lakers needed on their next possession. Clayton State stretched the lead back to a comfortable 18 points in the waning seconds.

Shana Franks paced Francis Marion with 13 points, followed by Kevina Ransom with 12 points, Dyer scored 11 points and Shannon Single-ton Bates scored 11 points.