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Cougars rally past Lander in second half to win PBC title

Lander fell in its bid for back-to-back PBC Tournament title, losing 76-61 to Columbus State in the championship game (Photo by Laura Brown)
Lander fell in its bid for back-to-back PBC Tournament title, losing 76-61 to Columbus State in the championship game (Photo by Laura Brown)

GREENWOOD – The Columbus State University Cougars outscored Lander 49-23 in the second half, beating the Bearcats 76-61 Sunday afternoon in Horne Arena to win their third Peach Belt Conference Women's Tournament championship in four years.

Columbus State improved to 28-1 on the season and will host the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament.

Defending PBC Tournament champion Lander fell to 24-7 but goes into the NCAA Tournament having won 14 of its last 16 games.

The Cougars committed 13 turnovers and trailed 38-27 at halftime before turning the game around in the second half, giving Anita Howard a championship in her first season as head coach.

Ashley Asouzu and PBC Tournament MVP Alexis Carter led the way, each posting double-doubles for Columbus State.

Asouzu had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Carter added 15 points and a game-high 13 boards in addition to three blocked shots.

Gabby Williams scored 14 points for the Cougars, Britteny Tatum added 13 points, and Narshanda Malone scored 12.

Breshay Johnson, Mylea McKenith and Ty'hesha Reynolds scored 13 points apiece to lead Lander. Victoria Baldwin, who joined Johnson on the All-Tournament team, added 12 points.

Kyra Wilson (6) and Jessica Harris (4) were the only other Bearcats that scored.

Johnson paced Lander with six rebounds while Reynolds led the team with eight assists. McKenith and Reynolds each had three steals.

Columbus State made 25 of 30 free throws (83 percent) and had a 47-34 advantage on the boards, including 32 defensive rebounds. The Bearcats hit only 14 of 23 free throws (61 percent).

Baldwin got Lander off to a fast start, hitting three 3s in the first quarter giving the hosts leads of 6-2, 9-4 and 14-6.

Meanwhile, Columbus State didn't score from the floor until over eight minutes into the game when Carter's basket made it 14-8 at the 1:54 mark. The Cougars had gone 0-for-8 with seven turnovers while making six free throws.

The Bearcats led 14-10 after one quarter.

Malone's 3 pulled Columbus State within 16-13 in the first minute of the second period. But McKenith made a layup and drained a 3, and Reynolds added a 3 to give Lander a 24-13 advantage with 8:20 until halftime.

The Cougars twice drew within five, the last time on Asouzu's basket making it 29-24 with 4:17 to go.

Reynolds knocked down a 3-pointer at the two-minute mark to restore Lander's 11-point lead at 38-27 and the score remained the same until halftime.

Asouzu's put-back closed Columbus State within 44-41 with 5:15 left in the third as the Cougars opened the second half on a 14-6 run.

After Johnson's layup pushed the Bearcat lead back to 46-41, Columbus State kept coming. Malone hit a jumper, Carter swished a pair of free throws, and Tatum gave the Cougars their first lead since the first minute at 47-46 with 2:59 left in the third when she made a layup off an inbounds pass.

After Baldwin put Lander back on top with a 3, Columbus State started another run. Tatum converted a three-point play and Carter hit five of six free throws as the Cougars went ahead 55-49 with 1:10 to go.

Asouzu made a mid-range jumper off an inbounds pass at the buzzer, giving Columbus State a 57-52 lead going into the final quarter. The Cougars outscored Lander 30-14 in the third.

Columbus State had 13 turnovers in the first half, none in the third quarter.

The Cougars took their first double-digit lead at 64-53 on Asouzu's basket with 5:39 left as they started the final period with a 7-2 run.

Harris's driving layup with 4:11 left was Lander's first field goal of the fourth quarter and cut its deficit to 66-58. Reynolds hit a 3 from the top of the key, pulling the Bearcats within 66-61 with 3:16 to go. But that would be the final points for the home school.

While Lander missed three crucial layups down the stretch, Columbus State expanded its lead to 71-61 on Carter's 3 with 1:57 left.

The Cougars closed out the game with five free throws.