PBC Tournament: Sutton keys late Nighthawk run as UNG triumphs 70-60

PBC Tournament: Sutton keys late Nighthawk run as UNG triumphs 70-60

AUGUSTA, GA – Sophomore forward Julianne Sutton scored 20 points, including seven in a late 19-4 run, to give top-seeded and 22nd-ranked University of North Georgia a 70-60 victory over fourth-seeded Clayton State University, Saturday afternoon (March 9) in the first semifinal of the 2019 Peach Belt Conference Women's Basketball Tournament.

North Georgia (26-4) advances to face the Lander University/Columbus State University winner in Sunday's championship contest at 1 p.m. Clayton State (21-9) must now await the announcement of the NCAA Division II National Tournament field on Sunday evening at 10 p.m. to see if they will receive an at-large bid.

Following Sutton, senior guard Tamera Thorpe scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while senior Amber Skidgel added 13 points, three steals, and three blocked shots.

Senior forward Velencia Johnson led Clayton State with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting.  She also hauled down six rebounds and pilfered four steals.  Junior Madison Newby was the only other Laker to reach double figures as she tallied 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. 

The highly entertaining contest featured 14 lead changes and 11 ties.

Neither team led by more than four in the opening quarter.  The Nighthawks held a 13-9 margin, but Clayton State responded with a 6-0 spurt to take a 15-13 advantage.  In total, the Lakers outscored North Georgia 10-3 over the final 4:17 of the period, including a TaKwana Bland stick-back just before the buzzer, to claim a 19-16 lead at the end of the period.

North Georgia scored two quick buckets to open the second period and re-assume the lead at 20-19. The two squads traded the lead before North Georgia would take a pair of four-point advantages, the final at 33-29.  Clayton State hit four free throws over the next 23 seconds to knot the score at 33-33, but UNG's Sutton scored the final of her 13 first-half points on a bucket with 28 ticks left to provide a 35-33 margin at halftime.

Johnson and Newby combined for 14 of the Lakers' 16 points in the third period.  A three-pointer by Newby from the right corner gave the Lakers their largest lead of the contest at 44-39 with 5:39 on the clock.  Three-pointers by Abbie Franklin and Thorpe quickly rallied the Nighthawks to a 45-45 deadlock.  The score was also tied at 47-47 and 49-49 before Sutton connected on 3-of-4 free throws over the final 1:03 of the third to provide UNG a 52-49 lead.

Those free throws ignited the 19-4 run that carried into the middle of the fourth quarter. A three-pointer by Skidgel and a lay-in by Sutton expanded the UNG advantage to 57-49. Following two inside hoops by Clayton State, North Georgia scored 11 straight to produce a 13-point margin at 68-53 with 2:45 remaining.

The Lakers closed the game with a 7-2 spurt to narrow the final margin. 

North Georgia shot 44.8 percent from the floor, including 4-of-13 from behind the arc, and hit 14-of-22 free throws.  Clayton State connected on 40.4 percent of its field goal attempts, including 4-of-15 from long range, and the Lakers were 10-of-12 at the foul line.