TAMPA, Fla. -- The flare for the dramatics was there for Clayton State on Friday as the Lakers opened the 2011-12 season with a thrilling 54-51 victory against Rollins in the Spartan Challenge Tournament at Tampa.

Fresh off winning the NCAA Championship and ranked No. 1 in the nation preseason poll, Clayton State got all it could handle and then some from a determined Rollins squad in the season opener for both teams. However, Clayton State hit some key shots down the stretch to pull it out.

"It was a struggle, and we were very fortunate to win," said Clayton State head coach Dennis Cox. "We didn’t play well against a good team, and Rollins had a great game plan. But we finished and that is what counts."

In the first half, it appeared as if Rollins would run away from the Lakers as the Tars connected on six 3-point baskets and led 33-26 at halftime. A 3-point basket by Kourtnie Berry gave the Tars a 28-14 lead at the 4:13 mark, followed by another 3-point basket by Kristina Mingos to give Rollins a 31-19 lead with 2:30 remaining.

But Clayton State made a late push as Brittany Hall drained a 3-point basket and Kayla Mobley scored on lay-up to cut the deficit to seven points at halftime.

The Lakers trailed much of the second half before making its late charge. Rollins led 44-37 when Tanisha Woodard drained a 3-point basket for Clayton State to cut the lead to four points at the 7:28 mark. A jumper by Drameka Griggs in transition trimmed the Rollins lead to 45-44 with 4:12 remaining.

Trailing by five, Clayton State relied on some big 3-point baskets in the final three minutes to overtake the Tars. Hall cut the Rollins lead to 49-47 with the first at the 2:29 mark. Following a Rollins turnover, Woodard struck again with a 3-pointer to give the Lakers their first lead since early in the first half, 50-49 with 1:49 remaining.

After Rollins tied the game on a free throw by Paris Moore, Keona Dixon came up big. The junior drained a 3-point basket at the 1:04 mark, giving the Lakers the lead for good, 53-50.

Griggs paced Clayton State with a game-high 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, while Hall and Woodard each scored nine points. Woodard also reached a big milestone, becoming the seventh player in Clayton State history to eclipse 1,000 career points. Dixon added eight points off the bench, while center Shacamra Jackson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

In the second half, the Lakers limited Rollins to only 1-for-9 shooting from 3-point range.

Moore scored 11 points to pace the Tars.