DAHLONEGA, GA – The North Georgia men's basketball team held a double-digit second half lead on Wednesday evening in Memorial Hal, but the Saints had to hold off a feisty Clayton State University squad in the final minutes to pick up the 84-79 victory in front of a sold out crowd in Peach Belt Conference action.
The Saints stayed alive momentarily in the race for the PBC Tournament with the win, but North Georgia could not get the help they needed from around the league as the University of Montevallo knocked off Georgia College to eliminate the Saints from any chance of qualifying the upcoming conference tournament.
The win did improve the Saints to 10-15 overall on the season and 7-9 in Peach Belt Conference action. The Lakers falls to 18-9 overall and 9-7 in league action as North Georgia continues to dominate the all-time series with Clayton State, improving to 9-2 overall since entering the league in 2005.
The Saints and Lakers fought back and forward in the opening half as five deadlocks and five lead changes dominated the opening 20 minutes.
Clayton State held their largest of the half at five points, taking the advantage at two different points, including the 15:53 mark when Brandon Robinson knocked down a jumper to give the visitors an 11-6 edge. The Saints fought back over the next two minutes however, using back-to-back three-pointers by Carl Taylor as part of a 10-3 run to give the Saints their first lead of the night.
North Georgia started to pull away down the stretch, using two more three-pointers by Taylor in a 40-second span as the Saints took their largest lead of the period at nine points with 55 seconds left, before taking a 43-36 lead into intermission.
The Saints continued to extend their lead to open the second period as Taylor stayed red hot and drilled his fifth three-pointer of the night at the 17:20 mark, giving North Georgia their first double-digit lead of the game at 50-40.
North Georgia pushed their lead to as many as 11 points on two different occasion, taking a 60-49 lead with 10:50 remaining, but the Lakers would make a run, going on a 16-5 stint over the next five minutes to create the seventh tie of the game at 65-65 with just 6:26 remaining.
Clayton State would fall behind and knot the score two more times, but North Georgia never trailed in the second half as Clarence Tillman gave North Georgia the lead for good with 1:55 remaining, knocking the first a two free throw attempts to make it a 76-75 game. The second attempt was wide of the mark, but Elijah Smith grabbed the offensive board and put it back to put the Saints up by three as they would go on to take the five-point victory in front a sellout crowd.
Four North Georgia players finished in double figures, led by 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting from long range by Carl Taylor, while Smith added 16 points and Tillman finished with 14. Chaun Tinney was a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc and added a free throw to reach double digits with 10 points, while adding a team-leading seven assists.
Brandon Robinson scored a game-high 29 points for Clayton State and grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Timmy Downs chipped in 21 points and five assists in the losing effort.
The Saints return to action on Saturday afternoon, welcoming Georgia College to town for the final regular season game of the season. Tip-off against the Bobcats in another Peach Belt Conference battle is set for 3:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall.