GREENWOOD – The Lander Bearcats had a statistical rarity Friday night with three players scoring at least 20 points as they opened the Bearcat Holiday Classic with a 79-70 victory over Southern Wesleyan University at Horne Arena.
Deramine Smith made 10 of 16 shots from the floor while Jareal Smith hit seven of 11, including seven of nine in the second half.
Nikola Lambic posted a double-double for the Warriors, who fell to 5-5. Lambic had 18 points and 15 rebounds, but the 6-foot-9 Serbian scored the majority of his points in the first half.
Kenny Holmes added 17 points for Southern Wesleyan, Nate Miller scored 14 points, and Rochard Gibson added 10 points.
The fourth annual Bearcat Classic concludes on Saturday afternoon in Horne Arena when Georgia College and Southern Wesleyan meet at 1:30, followed by Lander versus Lenoir-Rhyne at 3:30. Georgia College beat Lenoir-Rhyne in Friday's opening game.
Jareal Smith admitted that Lander was sluggish in the first half.
"The first half we played a little lackadaisical with no energy, and we stepped it up (in the second half)," Smith said.
"Those are the three guys (the two Smiths and Pruett) that we need to score and they made enough plays to win the game," Lander coach Jeff Burkhamer said. "I thought, overall, coming off the (Christmas) break, we executed pretty well."
The Bearcats made 29 of 57 shots from the floor (51 percent), 17 of 25 free throws (68 percent) and four of nine from 3-point range (44 percent).
Southern Wesleyan hit 27 of 62 shots from the floor (44 percent), 10 of 16 free throws (63 percent) and six of 22 from behind the arc (27 percent).
The Warriors out-rebounded Lander 38-32.
Neither team had more than a five-point lead until less than 12 minutes were remaining in the game. The Bearcats had a four-point lead five times in the second half until finally expanding that lead with a run.
Pruett started the run with a drive along the baseline for two, was fouled, and converted a three-point play for a 57-50 lead with 11:27 left. Then Lander's Mario Pendarvis answered a pair of Warrior free throws with a basket in the paint to make it 59-52.
Jareal Smith's jumper gave the Bearcats their largest lead of the game at 61-52 with 10:29 left.
But Southern Wesleyan battled back, pulling within four on Lambic's basket in the paint, making it 62-58 at the eight-minute mark.
Branco found Dermaine Smith streaking down the lane for a layup, extending Lander's lead to 64-58 with 7:06 to go, and Dermaine Smith added a pair of free throws for an eight-point advantage at the 6:20 mark.
The Bearcats took their first double-digit lead at 68-58 on Pruett's two free throws with 5:30 left, and Dermaine Smith provided an exclamation point for his great evening with a spectacular dunk off a pass from Jareal Smith to up the lead to 12.
Jareal Smith's free throw gave Lander a 73-63 lead with 2:45 left. Miller's 3 pulled the Warriors within seven, 73-66, with 2:25 to go. After a Bearcats turnover, Holmes hit two free throws to close the visitors within 73-68 at the 1:45 mark.
But Jareal Smith hit a 3 as the shot clock was expiring, expanding Lander's lead to 76-68 with 1:13 left. After Southern Wesleyan scored, the Bearcats again wound down the shot clock again and Pruett broke to the basket for a layup and a 78-70 advantage with 35 seconds to go.
The first 10 minutes of the game were close with three ties, and Southern Wesleyan taking three-point leads at 9-6, 11-8 and 15-12. Dermaine Smith kept the Bearcats close with eight points, including a pair of dunks. Lambic's tip-in, his fourth basket of the first half, gave the Warriors their 15-12 lead at the 10:35 mark.
Pruett hit a pair of 3s, the first one tying the game at 15 and the other giving Lander a 20-19 advantage with 7:40 to go. But Miller responded with a pair of 3s on consecutive trips, as Southern Wesleyan regained the lead at 25-20. It would be the team's biggest lead of the game.
Branco's two free throws pulled the Bearcats within 30-29, and his steal and pass to Dermaine Smith for his third slam dunk of the game put Lander on top, 31-30, with 2:32 left.
Pruett's layup gave the Bearcats their largest lead of the first half at three, 33-30. But Lambic made a tip-in with 46 seconds left and a free throw as time expired, tying the game at 33 at the break.
Jareal Smith drove the base-line for a layup, was fouled, and completed a three-point play to match Lander's largest lead at 38-35 at the 18-minute mark.
The Bearcats took four-point leads for the first time at 44-40, 46-42 and then 48-44 on Jareal Smith's jumper with 15:10 to go. But Holmes hit a 3 to pull Southern Wesleyan within 48-47 at the 14:56 mark, and Holmes made a free throw for a 48-all tie with 14:10 left.
Lander was back up by four, 52-48, on Jareal Smith's jumper and Carrier's layup off a nice pass from Pruett with 12:55 remaining. The Bearcats had their fifth four-point lead on another Jareal Smith basket, making it 54-50 at the 12-minute mark. Then Lander put together a run and pulled away.