Lander dominates Lakers, reaches PBC Tournament final

Mylea McKenith was one of five players to score in double-figures in Lander's win over Clayton State in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Semifinals (Photo by Laura Brown)
Mylea McKenith was one of five players to score in double-figures in Lander's win over Clayton State in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament Semifinals (Photo by Laura Brown)

GREENWOOD – Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Breshay Johnson posted her 13th double-double of the season as the Lander Bearcats used a 31-6 run between the second and third quarters, routing Clayton State University 97-60 in the PBC Tournament semifinals Saturday night at Horne Arena.

Lander will meet Columbus State in the tournament championship game Sunday at 4:30 in Horne Arena with the winner receiving an automatic invite to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

The PBC East Division champion Bearcats improved to 24-6, and have won 14 of their last 15 games. Sunday's opponent Columbus State is 26-1.

PBC West Division runner-up Clayton State fell to 24-6 and awaits a likely NCAA Tournament at-large berth as the Southeast Region's second-ranked team. Lander is ranked fifth in the latest region poll.

The Bearcats are searching for their fifth tournament championship in program history (1999, 2008, 2009 and 2016).

Johnson, Ty'hesha Reynolds and Mylea McKenith scored a combined 48 points for Lander and all went to the bench in the third quarter, watching freshmen play the remainder of the game as they rested up for Sunday's final.

Reynolds led Lander with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor while adding five assists in 23 minutes of action.

Johnson collected 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting while adding a game-high 16 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards, in just 22 minutes. The junior also added four steals and three blocked shots.

McKenith contributed 13 points while leading the Bearcats with seven assists in her 28 minutes on the court.

Kyra Wilson added 12 points and six rebounds for Lander, Jessica Harris totaled 11 points and four assists, and Victoria Baldwin scored nine points on three 3s in the first half.

Dejoun Dennard paced Clayton State with 13 points, Monica Alexander scored 11 points, and Abreyln Rackley and Andrea Benford led the Lakers with six rebounds apiece.

The Bearcats dominated the boards with a 54-33 advantage, including 25 offensive rebounds. Lander used the rebounding advantage to score 27 second-chance points and tallied 35 points off turnovers.

Lander dominated the first quarter, taking an 11-2 lead on Baldwin's first 3 of the game. After Clayton State pulled within 16-9, the Bearcats went on an 8-1 run. McKenith hit a 3 from the right side, Destinee Langford turned a nice bounce pass from Reynolds into a layup, and Reynolds got a friendly roll for another 3 building the lead to 24-10.

Lander led 28-17 after a fast-paced opening quarter.

The Bearcats were up 33-23 on Wilson's layup at the six-minute mark. After Lea Petit added a free throw to increase Lander's lead to 11, the Lakers climbed within 34-29 with a 6-0 run as Alexander made a short jumper and two free throws.

But the Bearcats outscored Clayton State 16-4 over the final 2:33 of the half. Reynolds made a pair of 3s, Johnson scored twice inside, and when Reynolds made one free throw but missed the second Johnson grabbed the rebound and laid it in with one second left for a 50-33 halftime advantage.

Lander broke the game open even further by scoring the first nine points of the second half in less than two minutes. The Lakers had four turnovers during the run which culminated with Harris's three-point play making it 59-33 with 8:15 left in the third quarter.

Two minutes later, Reynolds made a layup for a 63-34 advantage at the 6:22 mark. The lead grew to 30 when Wilson collected a rebound after Johnson blocked a Clayton State shot and drove almost the length of the floor for a layup, making it 65-35 with 4:45 to go in the third. Wilson's basket capped a 31-6 run.

Tabitha Dailey's put-back at the buzzer gave the Bearcats a 79-44 lead going into the final quarter.

Harris stole the ball in the first minute of the fourth quarter, drove toward the basket and shot it off the top of the backboard (above the glass) and it dropped straight down and in for one of Lander's oddest baskets of the season and an 81-44 advantage.

Wilson added a steal and drove between two defenders for a layup making it 87-45 with 7:19 to go. The 42-point lead was Lander's biggest of the game.

Alexius High and Langford hit 3s in the closing minutes to end the scoring for the Bearcats.