In fact, the Lakers have beaten every team they’ve played thus far, and they’re 17-0 overall with a 10-0 mark in the Peach Belt Conference. As a result of its success, Clayton State — one of four remaining unbeatens in Division II — has even ascended to No. 3 in the NCAA Division II coaches’ poll.
Helping lead the way have been two former Osborne High School standouts — Shay Jackson and Bena Hanyard. The duo led the Lady Cardinals to three straight 20-plus win seasons from 2007-10, and now they’re attempting to lead the Lakers back to the national championship after winning it all following the 2010-11 campaign.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” said Jackson, who was part of Clayton State’s national championship team as a freshman. “We also want to finish the season undefeated, which is what we didn’t do my freshman year. In order to that, we have to win the conference and the region, so those are goals, too.”
Defense has been the backbone of Clayton State’s win streak.
Through Sunday, the Lakers ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (50.6 points per game), and their field goal percentage defense (31.5 percent) is third in the nation. The team is also ninth with 14 steals per game.
With an offense scoring at a 68.6-point average, Clayton State’s scoring margin is 10th nationally, its turnover margin (5.87) is 15th and 3-point field goal defense (25.7) is 23rd.
Individually, Jackson is third in the country at 3.4 blocks per contest, and her contribution has the Lakers listed No. 1 at 7.1 blocks per game.
“Coach (Dennis Cox) doesn’t talk to us about stats and rankings, so we don’t know too much about that,” said Jackson, a 6-foot-1 junior center/forward who has started all 17 games and is averaging 8.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. “He just talks to us about playing big in games and getting better.
“We preach working hard on our defense in practice. That’s what’s helping us win games. We preach working hard for 40 minutes and the offense comes to us from that.”
Jackson joined the Lakers right out of high school, after coming in for a tryout, and she was offered a scholarship that same day.
Hanyard took a different route.
She attended Valdosta State for two years and was a member of a Blazers team that reached the round of 16 in last year’s Division II national tournament, but she decided after the season to transfer to Clayton State.
“I wanted to be closer to home and closer to family,” said Hanyard, a 5-7 junior guard who has started 16 of 17 games and is averaging 8.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.2 steals. “It was a good move for me basketball-wise. I’m here to try and help the team get another ring.”
Though Hanyard tore the meniscus in her knee in the preseason, she came back and has started all but one of the Lakers’ regular-season games.
For Hanyard and Jackson, it’s like they’re back at Osborne.
“We’re like Shaq and Kobe,” Jackson quipped. “Even better, she knows me so well. It’s a good feeling playing together again. I’ve been playing with her since sixth grade, and now we’re together in college. It’s like nothing’s changed. I knew she would be a good fit here.”
With all the success Clayton State is having, Hanyard knows that can change in a hurry.
“We’ve won a lot of games, but it’s important for us to stay humble,” she said. “We know anybody can beat us if don’t play to the best of our abilities every night.”