GREENWOOD – Nicklas Jonsson scored 23 points including eight in a row during a crucial stage of the second half as the Lander Bearcats pulled out their first Peach Belt Conference win of the season 82-76 over Clayton State Tuesday night at Horne Arena.
Lander improved to 5-5 overall, 1-3 in the Peach Belt.
The Lakers fell to 4-3, and suffered their first PBC loss leaving them 2-1 in the league.
"We focused on us tonight," said assistant coach Cooper Niemand. "We've been practicing really hard the past few days and our team responded well. We out-rebounded them, we did a nice job defensively and we made plays down the stretch."
The Bearcats had upset top-seeded and Western Division champion Clayton State last season in the quarterfinals of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament, and pulled off another upset on Tuesday.
Jonsson made eight of 13 shots from the floor and all five free throws to lead all scorers.
Sergio Smith added a double-double for Lander with 16 points and 14 rebounds while adding five blocked shots.
Jordan Dingle added 14 points, three assists and three steals for the Bearcats. Zane Rankin contributed nine points, while Sidney Robinson added nine points and three steals off the Lander bench. Srdjan Ivic added seven rebounds for the Bearcats.
Denzel Council paced Clayton State with 15 points, Jamil McKee, Aubrey McRae and Dantez Bennamon added 12 points apiece, and Justin Tuckson scored 11.
Council, Jaylen Taylor and Nathan Powell led the Lakers with eight rebounds apiece. Powell led the visitors with six assists.
There were six lead changes in the game's first 10 minutes as the Lakers led 15-14 at the midway point of the opening half despite making only four of their first 15 shots from the floor.
Jonsson made a driving layup, was fouled, and converted a three-point play to give Lander its first lead since the 13:39 mark, putting the host team on top 27-24 with 5:18 left in the first half.
Tuckson's rare four-point play after being fouled while making a 3-pointer put Clayton State back in the lead at 32-29 at the four-minute mark.
Trailing by seven, Robinson pulled the Bearcats back within a possession when he hit a 3 off an inbounds play in front of the Clayton State bench and later added a driving layup to cut the deficit to 38-36.
Robinson turned a steal into a three-point play, pulling Lander within 40-39 with 14 seconds left in the half. The score remained at 40-39 at the break.
The Bearcats took their first lead of the second half on Rankin's short jumper making it 49-48 with 14:03 to go. Dingle's 3 from the left wing and Smith's baseline jumper increased the lead to 54-50 at the 13-minute mark.
Smith's long jumper just inside the arc padded Lander's advantage to 57-50 with 11 minutes to go, capping a 12-2 run.
McKee's basket pulled Clayton State within 59-57 with 9:07 left. But Kade Marra's fade-away jumper from the free-throw line increased the Bearcat lead to 64-59 just inside the six-minute mark.
After Council's 3-point attempt spun out that would have put the Lakers on top, Jonsson responded with a trey that bounced off the rim, high off the glass and then in giving Lander a 67-62 lead with 4:28 left.
Bennamon's three-point play pulled Clayton State back within two. But Jonsson responded yet again, converting a three-point play of his own giving the Bearcats a 70-65 advantage at the 3:25 mark.
One minute later, another Jonsson basket off Dingle's steal made it 72-65 giving him his team's last eight points.
Clayton State's Powell missed the front end of a one-and-one, Ivic rebounded and Smith made a layup at the other end off a long bounce pass from Jonsson for a 76-67 lead with 1:43 to go.
Tuckson's fall-away jumper pulled the Lakers within 76-72 with 49 seconds left.
Lander's Ivic made one of two free throws, but Council made two as Clayton State cut its deficit to 77-74 with 32 seconds to go.
The Bearcats' top free-throw shooter on the season Jonsson made two free throws for a 79-74 lead with 30 seconds left. But Bennamon's layup cut it back to three with 21 seconds to go.
Ivic made two free throws with 19 seconds left to increase Lander's lead back to five and grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end to help put the game away. Rankin added a free throw with nine seconds to go for the game's final point.