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Austin Lawton

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Graduate center Austin Lawton (33), who ranked 28th on the NCAA Division II level last season in blocks per game (1.9) and 30th in total blocks (55), is also one of the top returners for the Panther men.

The Claflin men and women’s basketball teams open the 2018-19 season at separate sites in Florida on Friday.

The men are in Fort Lauderdale to face Nova Southeastern of the Sunshine State Conference in a non-conference match at 7 p.m. inside the “Shark Tank” at the Rick Case Arena on the Nova Southeastern campus.

Claflin is coming off its first-ever Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship along with a berth into the NCAA Division II South Regionals last season. The Panthers compiled a program-best 26 wins (26-7) that included a 16-game winning streak.

This season, the Panthers begin a new era as they are now competing in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Claflin officially become a member on July 1.

The Panthers will be led by senior point guard Triston Thompson, who averaged 9.5 points, 2.7 assists and collected a team-high 60 steals last season. He was ranked 31st in total steals and 75th in steals per game on the NCAA Division II level last season.

Graduate center Austin Lawton, who ranked 28th on the NCAA Division II level last season in blocks per game (1.9) and 30th in total blocks (55), is also one of the top returners for the Panther men. Lawton averaged 9.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and scored in double-figures 13 times.

The top three-point shooter returning for the Panthers is junior Jordan Jones, who connected on 31.

As for Nova Southeastern, the Sharks ended the 2017-18 season with an overall record of 17-10 under first-year head coach Jim Crutchfield. Nova Southeastern was selected No. 8 in the DII Bulletin National Preseason Top 25. The Sharks return eight players from last year’s team.

After Nova Southeastern, The Panthers travel to USC-Aiken (Nov. 14) before making their home debut against Tuskegee University (Nov. 17) for homecoming.

Women in Tampa tourney

For the third straight season, the Claflin women’s basketball team will open up on the road.

The Lady Panthers begin the 2018-19 campaign in the University of Tampa Tournament. The two-day affair will see Claflin face a pair of Sunshine State Conference teams, Florida Tech on Friday (Nov. 9) at 5 p.m. and host Tampa in the tournament’s last game Saturday (Nov. 10) at 7 p.m.

All games will be played on the Tampa campus inside the Bob Martinez Athletics Center.

Claflin will enter the tournament coming off a 17-13 overall record last season in head coach Revonda Whitley’s first year at the helm. The Lady Panthers finished 11-6 in their last year of competition in the SIAC before joining the CIAA.

Whitley returns three experienced players from a year ago. Graduate guard Ashley Fields is the most productive returnee, averaging 11.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists a game.

Also returning are senior guard Dejà Dickens, who averaged 7.5 points and knocked down 27 three-pointers for the Lady Panthers and Carmen Robinson, a senior low post player, who started 25 games last season.

In the matchup against Florida Tech, Claflin will face a team that finished 11-16 last season. The two teams met last year for Claflin’s homecoming, with the Lady Panthers withstanding a late Florida Tech rally in winning 64-56. Tampa was 17-11 last season.

Following the tournament, Claflin will open a three-game home stand, starting with Paine College (Nov. 14), The Lady Panthers will then host Anderson University (Nov. 17) for homecoming and open CIAA play vs. St. Augustine’s University (Nov. 19).

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