This time, the last second heroics weren't needed.
This time, number two beat number six.
This time, to the surprise of the 1000+ fans in attendance in the Clayton State Athletics & Fitness Center, and maybe even to the surprise of Clayton State Coach Dennis Cox, the Clayton State/Lander matchup between what may very well be the two best women's basketball teams in NCAA Divison II (currently ranked second and sixth, respectively), ended in an anticlimax, instead of a last-second game winning basket by Tanisha Woodard.
This time, the 32-1 Lakers rolled, 76-60.
A month and four days after the then-second-ranked and undefeated Lakers edged the then top-ranked and undfeated Bearcats 83-81 on Woodard's out-of-bounds play basket in the lane with 5.7 seconds left, Clayton State made a statement in the finals of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regionals. And the statement was, this is a team to be truly feared in the Elite Eight.
Outside of a one point overtime loss to USC Aiken in the Peach Belt semifinals (on the Pacers' home floor), the Lakers had run the table throughout the 2010/2011season, typically beating some very good teams by double digits. Indeed, it had already happend in the first two games of the Southeast Regionals... 25 and 26 point wins over Francis Marion and Barton. However, this was a superb Lander University team, probably the best ever fielded by that basketball power, and still holding a 29-3 record and the sixth spot in the DII rankings. No one, least of all Cox, expected the Lakers to blow open a three point halftime lead with 14 straight points in less than three minutes midway through the second half.
"It's a shame one of these two teams has to lose," said Cox in the afternoon before the game.
This time, like the first time, it wasn't Clayton State. After a game where superlatives abounded, the Lakers will advance to the Elite Eight to be held in St. Joseph, Mo., on Mar. 22, Mar. 23 and Mar. 25. The 32 victories by Clayton State is the most in a season by a Peach Belt Conference women’s program.
Although Teshymia Tillman, playing her final game on her home floor, was once again brilliant, earning the tournament MVP trophy with 19 points, including the 1000th of her two-year career at Clayton State, she shared the spotlight with reserve center Kayla Mobley, who led the Lakers with a game-high 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the floor. Reserve point guard Drameka Griggs, like Mobley exemplifying the depth of Cox' highly athletic team, added another 12.
Lander was led by Brittni Johnson’s 14 points while the Lakers held Bearcat superstar Shannon McKever to 10 points.
With 9:55 left in the game and holding a 49-44 lead, Tillman’s three pointer ignited a 14-0 run that gave Clayton a 63-45 lead at 7:23. In all,Tillman scored nine of the 14 points in the game's decisive stretch, and Lander never got closer than 11 afterwards.
Although known for its full-court pressure defense, Clayton State won this time out with its shooting, While tallying "just" nine steals against the Bearcats, the Lakers still shot 54.7 percent from the floor (29-53), scoring six more baskets in what turned out to be the game's key statistic.
Joining Tillman on the all-tournament team were Lander’s Johnson and Ciara Lyons, Clayton State’s Griggs, Barton’s Janetta Robinson and USC Aiken’s Kayla Harris.