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UNC Pembroke pulls away from Bearcats in PBC semis

Rahu Purdie drives during Lander's loss to UNC Pembroke in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Semifinals (Photo by Laura Brown)
Rahu Purdie drives during Lander's loss to UNC Pembroke in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Semifinals (Photo by Laura Brown)

GREENWOOD – UNC Pembroke scored the first 10 points of the game and never looked back, ending Lander's season with a 77-53 victory over the Bearcats in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals Saturday afternoon at Horne Arena.

Lander finished the season at 12-18.

The Bearcats were 8-11 in the PBC, good for fourth in the East Division which qualified them for the conference tournament. Lander became the first No. 4 seed from the East to ever defeat the Western champion in the PBC Tournament when the Bearcats won in double overtime at Clayton State last Saturday.

But the Bearcats were never in the semifinal game, falling behind 19-4 in the opening seven minutes and being down 25 late in the first half.

UNC Pembroke improved to 22-7 and will face Columbus State for the Peach Belt Tournament championship Sunday at 2 p.m. in Horne Arena. The winner receives an automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Brandon Watts led the Braves, scoring a game-high 21 points on seven of 12 shooting from the floor and six of eight free throws while adding seven rebounds.

Alex Bradley added 16 points for UNC Pembroke, hitting five of six shots from behind the arc. Akia Pruitt contributed nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Braves. Nigel Grant paced them with five assists.

JR Washington was Lander's leading scorer in his final college game, totaling 12 points. The senior guard finished his career in third place on Lander's all-time scoring list. The All Peach Belt player wound up with 1,816 points, 18 points away from tying Clinton Cobb for second place.

Clenzo Ross scored 10 points for the Bearcats. Telvin Gabriel contributed eight points and a team-high eight rebounds in his final Lander game. Chris Tate also added eight points.

The Bearcats had a cold shooting night, particularly from 3-point range. Lander made 19 of 55 shots from the floor (35 percent), only three of 20 from behind the arc (15 percent) and 12 of 17 free throws (71 percent).

UNC Pembroke nailed 28 of 63 shots (44 percent) including nine of 20 from 3-point range (45 percent) while also drilling 12 of 14 free throws (86 percent).

The Braves took control of the game from the outset, building leads of 10-0 and then 19-4 on Micah Kinsey's free throws with 13:30 left in the opening half.

Lander made a brief run, outscoring UNC Pembroke 7-2 when Ross made a 3 while Tate dunked and then added two free throws making it 21-11 at the 12-minute mark.

But the Braves scored the next 10 points to take their first 20-point lead, 31-11, with 8:27 left as Bradley and Watts hit 3s during the run.

Pruitt's dunk gave UNC Pembroke its largest lead of the first half at 43-18 at the two-minute mark. The Bearcats scored the final seven points of the half and trailed 43-25 at the break.

UNC Pembroke had a huge 26-10 rebounding edge in the first half.

Tate and Gabriel made layups in the opening minute of the second half as Lander looked to rally, trailing by 14 points at 43-29. It gave the Bearcats 11 unanswered points dating back to the final two minutes of the first half.

But the Braves quickly ended any thoughts of a comeback, using a 10-2 run on the strength of a pair of Bradley 3s for a 53-31 lead with 16:33 left.

Pruitt's layup upped Pembroke's lead to 71-43 just inside the seven-minute mark.