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Bearcats beat Clayton State as Harris, Starks score 26 points apiece

Bearcats beat Clayton State as Harris, Starks score 26 points apiece

GREENWOOD – The Lander women's basketball team got 26 points apiece from Jessica Harris and Symone Starks and beat Peach Belt Conference rival Clayton State 95-79 Monday afternoon at Horne Arena.

The Bearcats pulled away late to secure the win on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, improving to 12-5 overall and 9-2 in the PBC.

Lander won its eighth straight against the Lakers and took over first place in the Peach Belt standings after North Georgia (7-2) lost at Flagler Monday.

"We knew coming in that Clayton State does what we do," said head coach Kevin Pederson. "They press and they shorten up your bench and it's hard to play at the pace they play. The key for us right now is to find a way to enjoy the ride. We're in a great position right now. We have to find that energy that championship teams have and see if we can make a run down the stretch."

Clayton State fell to 10-5 overall, 6-3 in the league. The Lakers still hold an all-time series lead of 18-17, but have not beaten the Bearcats since Dec. 17, 2015. 

The Bearcats swept the season series, also winning 88-83 on Dec. 19 in Morrow, Ga. Harris also scored 26 points in that game.

Lander made only seven of its first 16 attempts from the free-throw line Monday but finished 27 of 39 from the stripe. Harris, Starks and Mylea McKenith made 15 of 18 free throws in the final quarter.

Harris led the way at the free-throw line, making 12 of 15 in the game. Harris, who was just named PBC Player of the Week for the second time earlier in the day, also paced the Bearcats with eight assists.

Starks made nine of 12 free throws on her way to matching Harris's 26 points. It was a Lander career-high for Starks, who had 25 points against Columbus State on Dec. 1, 2018.

McKenith added 19 points for Lander while also collecting six assists and three steals. McKenith is seven steals away from the program's career record.

Tabitha Dailey added 10 points while leading the Bearcats with eight rebounds. Miriam Recarte added six points off the Lander bench, including a big three-pointer just inside the four-minute mark after Clayton State had cut a 21-point deficit down to five.

Aleisha Merriweather paced the Lakers with 17 points, Taneria Wilson added 13 points and Takwana Bland scored nine of her 11 points in the second half. Shaquoria Miles paced the visitors with eight rebounds.

Leading 16-14 with 4:20 left in the first quarter, the Bearcats went on a 7-0 run on a pair of baskets by McKenith and a three-pointer by Starks for a 23-14 advantage. Lander led 25-18 going into the second period.

The Bearcats opened the second quarter on a 15-4 run capped by an Ariana Sanders driving layup for a 40-22 lead at the six-minute mark.

Clayton State cut its 18-point deficit to 11 on a Brittany Williams layup, making it 40-29 with 3:35 to go. Harris nailed a three-pointer from the left wing with seven seconds left, giving Lander a 51-36 advantage at the intermission.

The Bearcats took their largest lead of the game when Starks hit a three from near the top of the key to make it 58-37 with 8:18 left in the third.

The Lakers finished the third period strong, pulling within 64-53 on Bland's layup with 1:17 left and 69-57 on Merriweather's three at the buzzer.

Clayton State pulled within seven when Madison Newby made one of two free throws, cutting its deficit to 69-62 with 8:29 to go in the final period. Bland's driving layup cut it to 75-69 at the five-minute mark.

Thirty seconds later after Lander's Starks made one of two free throws, Bland drove the length of the floor for a layup to cut the Laker deficit to five, 76-71.

Bearcat freshman Recarte stepped up big with a blocked shot and defensive rebound, then hit a three-pointer from the top of the key giving the home team an 80-71 lead at the 3:51 mark.

Harris's three from the left side upped Lander's lead to 85-72 with 2:42 left. The Bearcats continued to build on their lead from the free-throw line, then Recarte hit another three from the left side to make it 95-77 with 30 seconds left.