MORROW, GA – The North Georgia men's basketball team needed a win on Saturday evening and they got just that when all the chips were on the table, coming from behind to force overtime before taking down in-state rival Clayton State University 71-66 in Peach Belt Conference action.
The Saints get back into the win column for the first time in the 2011 calendar year, snapping a five-game skid and improving to 4-11 overall and 1-5 in the Peach Belt Conference.
North Georgia's dominance over Clayton State in recent history continues, as the Saints are 8-2 against the Lakers since entering the league in 2005 and 14-3 over their in-state rival in school history. The loss gives Clayton State back-to-back defeats for the first time this season as the Lakers fall to 12-5 overall and 3-3 in league play.
In regulation, the Saints found themselves down by four points with 17 seconds remaining and the Lakers on the free throw line for a pair, but after a two straight misses, North Georgia had new life and Chaun Tinney hit his first basket of the game, a jumper just inside the arc to cut the lead to two with eight seconds remaining.
Following another foul, the Lakers collapsed at the free throw line once again, missing both attempts and sending North Georgia down the court with a chance to tie or win the game. Tinney pushed it up and found Clarence Tillman who took two dribbles and drilled a jumper from the top of the key as time expired, knotting the score at 59-59 and sending the Saints and Lakers to overtime.
Clayton State quickly took the lead in overtime on a free throw, but it was to be the Saints' night as Brody Langston recorded a steal at the top of the key and went coast-to-coast, slamming it home in the face of Torrin Greene to give North Georgia a one-point lead.
The Lakers retook the lead with 1:03 remaining, but it was Langston again with answer on the ensuing possession, posting up on the block and sending a running layup off the glass to give North Georgia the lead for good.
Chaun Tinney hit a fast break layup to quiet the crowd with 12 seconds left, and Carl Taylor put the game on ice, connecting on two free throws with seven seconds left to send the Saints to their first victory in 23 days.
A balanced scoring attack was the story for the Saints as Elijah Smith had his game of the year, finishing with 12 points, 17 rebounds, and five blocks. His 17 rebounds set a new Division II record for the Saints since the program entered the NCAA in 2005. Tillman tallied a game-high 21 points, while Langston had 11 and Taylor rounded out the four players in double figures with 10 points.
Only a pair of Clayton State players finished in double digits as Brandon Robinson and Tommy Downs each finished with 18 points, while Downs found himself an assists shy of a double-double as time expired. Greene and Michael Thorogood both finished with nine points, while Thorogood tallied a team-high 13 rebounds in 40 minutes of action.
A defensive struggle dominated the opening minutes of the game as neither team could get a basket to fall until the 16:35 mark when Carl Taylor stepped back and drilled a jumper to give the Saints a 2-0 lead.
The Lakers came back and took their first lead of the game on back-to-back layups, but North Georgia answered with a jumper from Keldrick Coleman and another bucket from Taylor, this time a three-pointer to give the Saints a one-point edge at 7-6 with 14:07 remaining in the half.
Clayton State would take over from there, scoring four straight points to take a three-point lead as they would hold an advantage for the rest of the half. Brandon Robinson drilled a three-pointer at the 9:41 mark, giving the Lakers their largest lead of the period as the Saints would close the gap back to three points at 29-26 heading to intermission.
The Lakers came out in the second half and started to pull away from the Saints, stretching the lead to double digits with 14:40 remaining on a three-point play by Michael Thorogood, giving Clayton State a 42-32 lead.
Clayton State took their largest lead of the night at 11 points with 6:05 remaining, but it was North Georgia who responded this time, going on a 8-0 run over the next five minutes before storming back in the final seconds to force the extra period.
The Saints will have Saturday off before starting their busiest home stretch of the season with three games in six days. North Georgia will welcome the University of Montevallo to town on Monday evening as part of a Peach Belt Conference doubleheader. Tip-off against the Falcons is set for 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall.