GREENWOOD – Jermel Kennedy scored a career-high 25 points and the Lander Bearcats improved their stellar home record with a 70-62 upset victory over No. 20 USC Aiken Wednesday night in a Peach Belt Conference game at Horne Arena.
Kennedy made 10 of 13 shots from the floor, beating his previous career high of 22 points versus Francis Marion Feb. 16, 2011. The senior also had 22 points as a sophomore at Volunteer State Community College.
Lander improved to 14-7 overall and 7-6 in the PBC, pulling into a fourth-place tie with Francis Marion in the Peach Belt's East Division. The Bearcats are now 12-1 at home. They also snapped a nine-game losing streak to Aiken - their last victory being the final regular-season game in 2006-07.
The East-leading Pacers fell to 16-5 overall, 10-3 in the conference.
The top four teams in both the East and West divisions qualify for the Peach Belt Tournament. Lander was helped in the PBC standings by Flagler's upset victory at Armstrong Atlantic State Wednesday.
Dwight Tolbert added a double-double for Lander with 20 points and 12 rebounds, including nine defensive boards. David Pruett scored 11 points, Corey Wright led the Bearcats with eight assists, and Tolbert added five steals.
Lander made 20 of 23 free throws (87 percent) including Kennedy's five-for-five from the stripe to help the cause.
Sterling Council and Terrance Dent led Aiken with 11 points apiece. Council paced the Pacers with four assists and Jeremiah Pojah had a team-high five rebounds to go along with eight points.
Lander had a 38-28 rebounding edge over Aiken, which had a miserable shooting night from 3-point range making only four of 25 (16 percent).
The Bearcats hit 23 of 54 shots from the floor (43 percent) and four of 14 from 3-point range (29 percent).
Aiken made 23 of 53 shots (43 percent) and 12 of 19 free throws (63 percent).
Lander had a 38-28 edge on the boards.
Leading by two at halftime, Lander opened up a nine-point lead in the first five minutes of the second half with an 8-1 run including two baskets by Tolbert, Kennedy's layup, and Pruett's two free throws.
The Pacers were 0-for-4 from the floor and committed six turnovers in those first five minutes. Their first field goal of the second half came at the 14:20 mark when Dent hit a 3-pointer, pulling Aiken within 38-32.
The Bearcats responded with 10 unanswered points including Tolbert's second-effort put-back and another basket, and Kennedy and Pruett combining for six of six free throws for a 48-32 lead with 11:39 left. Lander had out-scored the Pacers 18-4 in the second half to this point.
After Aiken's Jesse Seilern and Lander's Tolbert traded 3s, the Pacers climbed within single digits at 51-44 inside the nine-minute mark with a 9-0 run capped by Pojah's acrobat tip-in and Rick Alderman's jumper.
Wright's 3-pointer ended the run and Pruett's free throw gave the Bearcats a 55-44 lead with 7:29 to go.
After two scoreless minutes, Lander's Darion Canty made an aggressive move to the basket for a layup to extend the lead to 57-44.
The Pacers scored the next five points, including Pojah's jumper, Dent's free throw, and Pojah's dunk while rebounding Dent's failed second free throw to close the gap to 57-49 with 4:59 left. But Pojah was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and Pruett made one of two free throws for Lander.
After Dent made two free throws for Aiken, Tolbert threw a behind-the-back pass to Kennedy for a layup extending the Bearcat lead to 60-51 inside the four-minute mark.
Dent's 3 and Ronald Zimmerman's free throw pulled the Pacers within 60-55 with 3:36 to go. But Wright found Kennedy inside for a layup, extending Lander's lead to seven.
Pojah's put-back of Dent's missed 3-point attempt cut Aiken's deficit to 62-57 at the two-minute mark.
Tolbert and Wright hit two free throws apiece, pushing Lander's lead to 66-57 with 1:37 left.
Dent's scoop shot cut it to seven and he made one of two free throws on an intentional foul call to pull the Pacers within 66-60 with 54 seconds to go.
But with Aiken awarded the possession after the intentional foul, Tolbert got a steal which led to Wright's long pass to Kennedy for a layup giving the Bearcats a 68-60 lead with 43 ticks remaining.
Alderman scored for Aiken, but Tolbert hit two free throws with 21 seconds left to close the scoring.
Two of the game's first three baskets were dunks with Lander's Tolbert finding Kennedy inside for a slam and Aiken's Chase Holmes collecting a fast-break dunk off Seilern's steal and assist.
Wright's fast-break pass back to Pruett for a layup gave the Bearcats a 10-4 lead at the 16-minute mark and Kennedy's second dunk, on a break-away, pushed Lander's advantage to 12-5 with 13 minutes left.
But the Pacers went on a 12-3 run, including Maurice Hubbard's dunk and Council's breakaway layup giving Aiken its first lead, 17-15, with 9:21 left.
But the Pacers missed their next six shots and added two turnovers, opening the door for Lander to regain the lead with an 8-0 run to make it 23-17. Pruett hit the go-ahead 3, and Tolbert added a 3, and a basket in the paint.
Aiken regained the lead, 26-25, at the two-minute mark when Seilern passed inside to Halderman for a layup. Kennedy's three-point play put the Bearcats back on top and Council hit a jumper to tie it at 28-all with one minute left.
Canty's free throws gave Lander a 30-28 halftime lead.