GREENWOOD – Lander junior guard Chelsea Mitchell scored 12 points and had a key steal in the final seconds as the No. 24-ranked Bearcats outlasted Georgia College 61-54 in the Peach Belt Conference opener for both teams Monday night at Horne Arena.
Lander was without senior guard Mylea McKenith, who was averaging 15 points per game but was unable to play due to injury. The Bearcats made only 21 of 66 shots from the floor (32 percent), but Mitchell, a transfer from Division I Morgan State, stepped up in McKenith's absence.
Lander won the game with defense, collecting 29 turnovers.
"Fortunately, our system worked defensively and we forced them into a lot of turnovers," said head coach Kevin Pederson. "It wasn't our best game and I'm sure Georgia College would probably say the same thing."
The Bearcats improved to 4-1 overall, 1-0 in the Peach Belt. Georgia College fell to 1-4, 0-1.
Lander has now been ranked in the first two polls of the season for the first time since 2011-12.
Breshay Johnson also scored 12 points while leading the Bearcats with eight rebounds. Jessica Harris added 11 points, including four free throws in the final 26 seconds. Destinee Langford contributed eight points and six boards. Harris paced Lander with six steals while Tabitha Dailey added six rebounds.
Brianna Davis led the Bobcats with a game-high 18 points, Alyah McGriff posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Erin Drynan added 11 points and seven boards. Sydney Cleveland led Georgia College with six assists.
Alexius High's first 3 of the night gave Lander a 10-2 lead with 5:24 left in the first period and Johnson's layup upped the advantage to double figures, 15-5, at the 3:17 mark. The Bearcats led 19-12 after a quarter.
McGriff twice pulled Georgia College within a point with layups, cutting the deficit to 19-18 and then 20-19. Davis's layup closed the Bobcat deficit to one for the fifth time at 27-26 with just under a minute left in the half.
High's second 3 of the night with 34 seconds left before halftime gave Lander a 30-26 advantage at the break.
Langford's three-point play pushed the Bearcat lead to 35-30 with 6:50 to go in the third quarter. Ta'Asia Wright's put-back pulled Georgia College within 36-34 inside the three-minute mark. But Lander closed the third period on a 6-0 run including a pair of layups by Mitchell for a 44-36 advantage going into the fourth.
Victoria Baldwin hit a 3, extending the Bearcat advantage to 48-39 at the nine-minute mark. But Davis hit a trey and Georgia College was within 52-49 with 3:37 to go.
After a Lander free throw, the Bobcats had a chance to close within two but were called for an offensive foul with 1:49 left. Lander couldn't take advantage, turning the ball over for the second time in a row with 1:20 to go.
Davis's 3 from the left side pulled the visitors within 53-52 with 52 seconds left. But Mitchell drove to the basket, making a layup for a 55-52 lead with 33 seconds to go.
Langford drew an offensive foul with 28 seconds left and then Harris got fouled, making one of two free throws for a four-point lead. Georgia College got within two points again when Davis made a pair of free throws, making it 56-54 with 16 seconds left.
Harris made one of two free throws, giving the Bearcats a 57-54 lead with 14 seconds to go. And Lander clinched it when Mitchell intercepted Davis's entry pass under the basket, leading to a pair of free throws by Johnson to make it 59-54 with four seconds left. Harris added two more free throws.