GREENWOOD – The University of North Georgia grabbed a 25-11 lead after one quarter and held off several Lander rallies, clinching the Peach Belt Conference regular season championship with an 80-73 victory over the Bearcats Thursday night at Horne Arena. Lander had its eight-game winning streak snapped and remained in second place in the PBC.
The Bearcats fell to 21-6 overall and 16-5 in the Peach Belt with one regular-season game left to play Saturday at Augusta University. Lander can clinch second place with a victory Saturday. Columbus State beat Flagler Thursday night and those two teams are tied for third place at 15-6.
The Nighthawks swept the season series from Lander and improved to 23-4, 18-3.
Johnson went out and had a good night in her final regular-season home game, posting a double-double with 16 points on six of nine shooting from the floor while also leading the Bearcats with 14 rebounds.
Chelsea Mitchell also posted a double-double for Lander with 14 points and 11 boards.
North Georgia's Julie McKie led all scorers with 23 points on eight of 15 shooting and completed a double-double with a team-high 10 rebounds. She also blocked two shots including a key block late in the game.
Amber Skidgel added 16 points for the Nighthawks while Julianne Sutton contributed 14 points and eight boards. Abbie Franklin added 11 points for the visitors.
North Georgia dominated the first quarter, building leads of 10-3 and 18-5 on its way to a 25-11 advantage going into the second period. Seven different Nighthawks scored in the first quarter. Lander made only three of 19 shots in the opening period.
Down 29-15 early in the second, the Bearcats went on a 12-2 run to quickly get back into the game. Harris and Alexius High made 3-pointers during the run while Sanders scored twice, pulling Lander within 31-27 at the 4:43 mark.
Franklin ended the run with a 3-pointer as North Georgia soon built its lead back to nine. But Williams hit a long jumper just inside the 3-point line at the buzzer as the Bearcats were within striking distance down 41-34 at the break.
It took Lander only 30 seconds at the start of the second half to pull within a possession. Sanders made a 3 from the top of the key and Williams stole the inbounds pass and converted it into a layup, closing the Bearcats within 41-39.
Lander twice more got within two points, lastly on Mitchell's basket making it 45-43 at the seven-minute mark. But the Nighthawks built their lead back into double figures on McKie's basket making it 57-47 with 3:42 left in the third, and still led 59-53 going into the final quarter.
Sutton's turnaround jumper in the paint upped North Georgia's advantage to 69-57 with six minutes left in the game.
Harris made a 3 and Mitchell collected a steal and layup, pulling Lander within 69-62 with 4:44 to go.
Skidgel's 3 from the top of the key increased the Nighthawks advantage to 76-64 with 3:19 left.
Sanders made a 3 from the left wing off Mitchell's offensive rebound and pass, closing Lander within 76-69 with 2:17 to go. Johnson stole the ball in the paint, leading to a fast break as Destinee Langford passed to Mitchell for a layup making it 76-71 with 1:44 left.
North Georgia missed a 3-point attempt with one minute to go and a teammate grabbed the offensive rebound and also missed, giving the Bearcats another chance still down five points. But the Nighthawks' McKie blocked a shot in the paint and then was fouled, making both free throws. McKie added two more from the stripe to clinch the win.