DAHLONEGA, Ga. — April McCann scored a game-high 15 points and Tusculum used two big runs to upset top-ranked and defending NCAA Division II champion Clayton State 63-51 in the opening game of the X-Trem Thanksgiving Classic at North Georgia Friday afternoon.
Staci Hicks and Linda Aughburns added 10 points apiece for the Pioneers (2-0), who defeated a No. 1 team for the first time in program history and dealt the Lakers (3-1) just their third loss in their last 46 games. Two of the losses have come to Tusculum, which defeated Clayton State 69-63 in the 2010 Southeast Region quarterfinals en route to the regional championship.
The Pioneers took the lead for good with a 14-0 run in the first half, and put the game away with 13 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the highest-ranked opponent in program history, surpassing an 83-64 win against seventh-ranked Indianapolis on Nov. 27 of last season.
“Anytime you beat the No. 1 team in the country, you have to feel good about yourself as a group. We are learning that we can compete with anyone nationally,” said Tusculum coach Adell Harris, who picked up her sixth win against a ranked opponent in three years with the Pioneers. “The way Clayton State plays, we knew it was going to be a game of runs. Mentally, we had to stay within what we wanted to do, get some defensive stops and make some runs of our own.”
Brittany Hall led the Lakers with 12 points, and Shacamra Jackson added a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. However, Clayton State shot just 30 percent (21-for-70) as a team and was unable to take advantage of 27 Tusculum turnovers, converting them into just 16 points.
Clayton State took an early 7-4 lead on a layup by Drameka Griggs 3:20 into the first half, but back-to-back 3-pointers by McCann and Kendal Baxter helped the Pioneers to a 10-7 lead with 14:32 left in the half.
A layup by Tanisha Woodard gave the Lakers their biggest lead of the game at 15-10 with 11:55 remaining in the first half, but the Pioneers ran off 14 consecutive points in the next six minutes to take a 24-15 lead. Jama Hammontree tied the game at 15-15 on a 3-pointer with 10:29 left in the half, then converted a four-point play with 8:30 left to give the Pioneers the lead for good at 19-15.
Baxter capped the run with a 3-pointer with 5:51 remaining in the half before Hall ended the Lakers’ drought with a 3-pointer of her own on Clayton State’s next possession. The Lakers pulled within two at 26-24 with 2:54 left in the half, but a basket by Aughburns and two from Hicks sent the Pioneers to intermission with a 32-24 lead.
Hicks led all players with eight points in the first half, while Hammontree added seven points and Baxter six. Tusculum shot 43.3 percent (13-for-30) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, and Clayton State finished at 27.3 percent (9-for-33) as a team in the half.
The Lakers cut the Pioneer lead to three points on four occasions in the second half, the last with 12:10 to play on a putback by Jackson. But while Clayton State came up empty on 11 consecutive possessions, Tusculum put the game out of reach by scoring 13 unanswered points. McCann scored six points during the run, including a layup with 4:15 left that gave the Pioneers their biggest lead of the day at 56-40.
Clayton State would cut the Tusculum lead to single digits just once, at 59-51 on a steal and layup by Hall with 1:00 left, but the Pioneers sealed the win on a jumper by Alishia Mosley with 41 seconds left and a steal and layup by McCann with 25 seconds left to close out the scoring.
Hicks added a team-high eight rebounds to go with her 10 points for the Pioneers, while Aughburns added seven boards and four steals. Baxter came up with a career-high five steals as Tusculum generated 13 steals from Clayton State’s 19 turnovers.
Woodard shot just 4-for-16 from the field and finished with eight points, but blocked four shots and made seven steals for the Lakers. As a team, Clayton State finished 4-for-17 from 3-point range.