March 14, 2009

Courtesy of Florida Southern Athletics

LAKELAND, Fla. - In a game marked by 10 ties and 12 lead changes, third-seeded Claflin defeated sixth-seeded Valdosta State 54-50 in quarterfinal action at the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Regional Championship on Saturday.

Ernest Sinkfield led Claflin (25-3) with 15 points, and Eric Salley contributed 13.  Tristan Crawford was the lone double-figure scorer for Valdosta State (24-7), netting 17.

In the first half, Claflin gained the first significant advantage when it jumped out to a 7-2 lead with 14:12 showing on the clock.  Valdosta State roared back, taking its first lead of the game at 9-8 with 10:58 remaining in the period.  The Blazers would push their lead to the largest of the half at 22-16 at the 3:23 mark.  Nevertheless, Claflin answered back keyed by a pair of free throws and a layup by Benjamin Lawmann to send the game into intermission knotted at 25-25.

The second half was a back-and-forth affair with neither squad gaining much breathing room.  With Valdosta State leading 48-47 with 2:40 remaining in the game, Salley hit a jumper and drained a three-pointer to give Claflin a 52-48 cushion with 1:52 left.  The Panthers would never relinquish the lead, with Phillip Brown sealing the victory with a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left on the clock.

If there were one area on the stat sheet in which the Panthers gained a significant advantage, it was in three-point field goal and free throw percentage.  Claflin shot 47.1 percent from downtown (8-for-17), compared to 27.8 percent (5-for-18) for Valdosta State.  At the line, the Panthers connected on 82.4 percent (14-of-17) of their free throws, while the Blazers made just 58.3 percent (7-for-12) of their attempts.

With the win, Claflin advances to face No. 2 Christian Brothers in the regional semifinals.  The teams will square off at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Jenkins Field House, located on the campus of Florida Southern College.