COLUMBUS, Ga. – After winning five games in a row and six of their last seven to make the program's first trip back into the post-season since the 2008-09 season, the University of North Georgia women's basketball team's magical run to end the 2012-13 season finally came to a close Sunday afternoon in the championship game of the 2013 Marvin Vanover Peach Belt Conference Basketball Championships hosted by Columbus State University.
The Saints (14-15) entered the game as the four-seed out of the West Division with a huge undertaking as the underdog going up against the undefeated and No. 1-ranked Clayton State University Lakers (29-0). In North Georgia's first-ever appearance in the PBC Tournament Championship Game, the Lakers did what they had done all season, forcing turnovers and forcing an up-tempo game, to claim their fourth PBC Tournament crown with an 81-54 victory inside the Frank G. Lumpkin Center.
Following the game, junior forwards Jaymee Carnes and Mimi Hill were named to the PBC All-Tournament team. Hill averaged 17.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game through the tournament's three contests and hit 20 of her 23 free throw attempts to go along with five assists and a pair of blocks. Carnes averaged 16.3 points and 8.7 boards per game in the tourney and added in 11 assists and eight blocks.
The Lakers, which have won six PBC regular-season titles and the 2011 NCAA Division II National Championship, will be making their ninth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament with the PBC's automatic bid. The win also matches the Clayton State school record for most consecutive wins set during the 2010-11 season.
North Georgia was held to fewer than 60 points on Sunday for the first time since January 26 when the then third-ranked Lakers beat the Saints 88-56 in Dahlonega, Ga. In between that game and Sunday's meeting, North Georgia went 7-4 to secure a berth in the conference tournament and averaged 76.4 points per game as a team.
The Saints ended the game shooting 35.9% (14-39) from the field, but 33 turnovers kept them from contesting the fast-paced Lakers while Clayton State used their quick transitions to score 35 of their 81 points off those 33 turnovers.
Carnes' 13 points and four blocks led North Georgia while Sophomore guard Stephanie Huffman was the next-highest scorer for North Georgia with 12. Mimi Hill corralled in a game-high 10 rebounds and had eight points in the contest, her fewest points since the middle of January as she had scored in double-digits in the Saints' last 13 games.
Clayton State shot 45.7% (32-70) from the field and was extremely balanced in its offensive attack with nine players scoring, five of which finished in double-digits led by PBC Tournament Most Valuable Player and PBC Player of the Year Drameka Griggs' 18 points. Griggs scored 12 of her points in the first half and had seven assists.
Bena Hanyard and Shannon smith each scored 13 points, Kayla Mobley finished with 12 and Keona Dixon chipped in 11 points.
North Georgia, which returns all but one player from this year's squad, kept the Lakers' lead manageable for much of the first half, not allowing the Lakers to establish a double-digit lead until nearly 10 minutes into the game.
The two teams shot identical 42.9% from the field in the first half with Clayton State taking 14 more shots than North Georgia. Both squads hit just two three-pointers each in the stanza, but Clayton State would eventually make five more in the second half of play.
The Saints did manage a small 5-2 run to end the first half, but an 18-0 run by the nationally-ranked Lakers to open the second half, including nine points off turnovers in the first five minutes, kept the young Saints from being able to establish much in the way of offense.