March 14, 2009

Courtesy of Tusculum

HICKORY, N.C. --- The Clayton State University women's basketball team (25-6) defeated No. 16 Tusculum (26-6) 79-68 on Saturday night in the semifinal round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional, ending the Pioneers magical postseason run on the heels of the program's first ever NCAA Tournament win.

Tusculum connected on 50% of its shots in the game, while out-rebounding the Lakers 34-33 on the night. Clayton State forced 21 Pioneer turnovers, which it turned into 25 points. The Lakers also led the way 16-7 in second-chance points.

Jasmine Gunn paced the Pioneers with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting, while Kat Spears and Stephany Neptune joined the sophomore guard in double figures with 13 and 12 markers, respectively. Neptune hauled down six rebounds to extend her streak of five or more boards to 67 consecutive games as Spears took a team-high eight shots off the glass. Gunn dished out a team-high five assists to move into fourth in program history with 370 career helpers.

Senior Ashli Oliver knocked down one three-pointer in her final game with the Pioneers to finish her career second all-time in the NCAA Division II with 375 treys. Nikki Van Dine connected on three shots from behind the arc to conclude her career with 177 three-pointers, good for second on the program's all-time list. Senior guard Shantae Shank also knocked down 4-of-9 attempts from the floor to finish her career with nine points in the game, and 938 markers in her career.

Five players scored in double figures for Clayton State, led by Marie St. Ford's 19 points. Shanrika Hardeman chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds as Ford hauled down nine boards. Lesheria Stevens dished out a team-high three assists and recorded a game-best six steals.

Clayton State never trailed in the game, jumping out to an 11-4 lead in the first three minutes of the contest and stretched the lead to 20-12 on a three-pointer by Dominique Jennings at the 11:34 mark. Tusculum battled back to within one, and tied the game at 27-27 on Spears' three-point play with 5:47 to go in the half. Clayton State then closed out the half with a 12-7 run to take a 39-34 lead into the intermission.

The Lakers continued to pressure the ball in the second half, opening the period with a 19-13 run over the first seven and a half minutes of the half to take a 58-47 lead on St. Ford's three-pointer with 12:24 to play. Clayton State extended the lead to as many as 17 points in the half, as the Pioneers battled over the final five minutes to close the gap to 11 markers with a 15-9 spurt to end the game.

Tusculum ends its season with 26 wins, which ties the program record for victories in a season at the NCAA level. The Pioneers will return eight letter-winners from this year's South Atlantic Conference championship squad, including Neptune, the program's all-time leader in blocked shots.